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The Best Hardware Configuration for SolidWorks CAD Software

November 10, 2011 3 comments

SolidWorksOptimizing hardware for SolidWorks is essential for getting the most out of this heavy-hitting CAD application, as we’ve discussed on CADspeed previously. So we were thrilled when the SolidWorks forum addressed this very issue recently on their forums.

The key to getting the most out of SolidWorks, or any CAD application for that matter, is ensuring your hardware can handle the workload. Remember that your situation is unique. In simple terms, two users using the same software on the same system may have very different perspectives on their workload efficiency if one is using 3D rendering and the other is not. Consider your needs first and foremost.

On the flip side, if you know you need new hardware, simply buying the most expensive machine may not pay off in the long run either. Think in terms of your productivity while shopping for a new workstation to get the most for your budget, hopefully with a little room to grow for those inevitable upgrades.

That said, here’s a summary of the recommendations straight from SolidWorks themselves.

RAM (Random-Access Memory)

The amount of RAM you need depends less on SolidWorks and more on the number of applications you run at the same time, plus the size and complexity of your SolidWorks parts, assemblies and drawings. SolidWorks recommends you have enough RAM to work with your common applications (i.e., Microsoft Office, email, etc.) and load your SolidWorks documents at the same time.

The recommended RAM for the current SolidWorks versions is 6GB. That should be your starting point. For more information on how much RAM you need, here’s a great resource on the SolidWorks forums.

CPU

Processor speed is another key factor when selecting the right hardware for you. It’s hard to sort through all the different options though, so we recommend testing a system with your actual models. SolidWorks also offers a helpful Performance Test, which offers a standardized test for determining performance of your major system components (i.e., CPU, I/O, video) when working with SolidWorks datasets. Even better, when you complete the SolidWorks Performance Test, you have an option to share your score with others. This gives you, and other community members, a sense of where a system stands relative to others. Nice!

Note that SolidWorks and some of its add-ons (PhotoView 360) have some multithreaded capabilities, so the application can use the second processor or multiple cores. But SolidWorks says that rebuilds are single threaded and therefore rebuilds generally will not be faster with multiple CPUs or cores.

Disk

The size of your hard drive or solid-state drive should be based on the disk space you need. Take a look at all your system’s components: operating system, applications and documents. If you work primarily on a network, your needs may be different than those who primarily use their local drive. Don’t forget to develop a back-up plan for your data, if you don’t already have one. (You do have one, right?)

Graphics Cards

The very nature of CAD software requires a good workstation-level graphics card and driver. You are probably going to need at least a mid-range card, if not a high-end card, depending on the type of CAD work you do. For graphics cards, we recommend starting with the SolidWorks Certified Graphics Cards and System, because SolidWorks has done the testing for you.

Can’t get enough about hardware configurations for SolidWorks? Check out this great post from SolidWorks on their forums. Or learn more about the minimum requirements for SolidWorks.

Sustainability and the CAD Workstation: Heat, Noise and Power Consumption

November 3, 2011 2 comments

Sustainability and the CAD WorkstationPrice and performance generally increase as you climb the workstation ladder, and so do heat, nose and power consumption. These metrics, which were of low or no concern years ago, are top of mind today.

Heat

We’re all looking to cut costs and go greener; electricity is used by your new machine, of course, but also in cooling the office space that the machine heats up. Remember the heat output of a workstation impacts the company’s overall utility bills. If  you multiple that effect by the number of workstations in the office, it can have a measurable influence.

Noise

Although it might be easy to dismiss the concern over noise, we all know that nothing puts a damper on your productivity like the incessant whir of all those fans moving air through that desktop chassis. So how do you quantify the noise? Big buyers are actually measuring decibels now, before even checking out price tags and performance specs.

But for the rest of us without access to acoustics chambers, the basic premise is straightforward: the more watts the machine consumes, the higher your electric bill, the more heat is produced, and the greater the air flow necessary to cool it, meaning more noise.

Power Consumption

Where’s the greatest power consumption? For anyone who’s peered inside a chassis and seen the big heat sinks and fan sinks (with an active fan on top of the chip), you know the CPUs and GPUs are notorious problem areas. Über-clocked CPUs and GPUs consuming more than 150 watts mean more fans and more noise.

Testing a Workstation

Now every OEM is paying attention to more effective chassis design to optimize air flow and cooling, and these efforts are noticeably reducing noise. However, system noise is difficult to ascertain unless you can try out the unit yourself, so if unexpectedly high noise or power consumption is a major concern, see if you can buy at a brick-and-mortar store to more easily test it out and return, if necessary.

Otherwise, just keep in mind that choosing the fastest CPUs and GPUs — and opting for a dual processor for either — will drive up power consumption quickly, and chances are more noise will follow.

Author: Alex Herrera

Hardware Considerations for Maximizing the Performance of Vectorworks 2012 Software

October 27, 2011 3 comments

Vectorworks 2012In September we announced the release of the 2012 version of Vectorworks® software. The release contains more than 100 performance and usability improvements to help users save time and increase their productivity. If you’re thinking about trying one of the Vectorworks design series programs, or if you’re ready for an upgrade, you may have some questions about hardware selection. Here is a brief overview to get you started.

Core Considerations

The main benefits provided by hardware to Vectorworks 2012 come from the number of CPU cores available, as well as their individual clock speed.

If you use Renderworks, the Vectorworks rendering application, you’ll want a CPU with multiple cores because when rendering in Renderworks® modes, Vectorworks 2012 software is capable of utilizing dozens of cores. These cores can all be accessed at the same time, which drastically decreases the rendering time over older single-core machines.

Thoughts on Memory

Memory (RAM) is less important to Vectorworks software, with a good base being 4GB to allow plenty of free RAM for the operating system, as well as for the Vectorworks program and a few other applications to run in the background.

Vectorworks is normally not very memory intensive, so you would not notice the difference between two machines with identical processors and video cards. For example, if one had 4GB and one had 12GB, your experience with the program would likely be similar. However, there are instances where more memory can be helpful to you. For example, if you run multiple apps on your machine, such as CINEMA 4D or Scia Engineer, extra RAM will be useful to improving overall performance.

Drive Decisions

The other aspects to consider when choosing hardware for the Vectorworks 2012 program are video cards (which are covered in detail here), and the drive the machine will use. Vectorworks would receive a mild benefit to open/close times and speed increases when saving files if you were to use an SSD (Solid State Drive) as compared to a regular 7200RPM HDD (Hard Disk Drive). However, you would not notice significant drafting speed or rendering speed increases if you used a faster drive.

To learn more about how to maximize your Vectorworks 2012 software experience, please see our list of Vectorworks system recommendations.

Author: Jim Wilson, Technical Support Specialist, Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc.

Speed Up Civil 3D with a 64-bit Operating System, Part 3: Selling to the Boss

September 8, 2011 1 comment

Windows 7 64-bit Operating System for Civil 3DSo far, we’ve covered the advantages of upgrading a 64-bit operating system for Civil 3D and other CAD applications as well as the benefits in non-CAD tasks also.

All of these benefits are driving the PC market to embrace 64-bit operating systems like never before. Last year the Windows Blog reported the installed was approaching 50% and NPD recently reported that over 75% of computer systems on retail shelves were being sold with some flavor of Windows 7 64-bit pre-installed. All of this makes it clear that the 32-bit OS is a thing of the past and prime for extinction soon.

The best way to future-proof that Civil 3D workstation for tomorrow is to recognize this trend and migrate to 64-bit today!

Benefits versus Costs

Since almost any new CAD system you order from a big manufacturer will come preloaded with Windows 7 64-bit, the real decision lies in updating your old systems. Costs for licenses will vary depending on your software source and your licensing relationship with Microsoft. But it is safe to assume that the change will cost a few hundred dollars to install Windows 7 64-bit on each machine.

While that may seem like a hard pill to swallow consider this: Assume a man year is over 2000 hours. Billing at an average rate of $60/hour, if your employees could improve renderings, processing, and files open/save procedures to save just one minute per hour that would equate to $2000 of billable time a year! That means your 64-bit investment would pay for itself in a single year! Now those are numbers worth taking to the boss.

If after all of this you are still set on keeping your old, tired 32-bit system, we understand. Change is scary. Drop us an email and let us know how things are back in the 1990s. You can address it to “the future of Civil 3D.” We’d love to hear from you.

Author: Curt Moreno

Speed Up Civil 3D with a 64-bit Operating System, Part 2: Non-CAD Tasks

September 7, 2011 2 comments

Windows 7 64-bit Operating System for Civil 3DWe’ve been discussing Civil 3D and other CAD applications up to this point. But the average CAD workstation has to do so much more than CAD. Well if you are running a 64-bit operating system you are going to see benefits in these non-CAD tasks also.

Thanks to the aforementioned improvements in memory and computational management, even the most boring tasks will be improved. For instance Microsoft Office Excel will be able to open massive workbook faster and easier since it no longer has to break the data into “manageable” 2GB chunks. Microsoft Project will handle huge projects with greater ease and fewer stalls/crashes when multiple sub-projects are involved. Adobe Photoshop will render and perform file open/save functions much faster. And that is just to name a few of the great things that 64-bit operating systems can do.

But if CAD is really all you are concerned with then here is the best news of all. Many modern CAD applications are available in native 64-bit versions. These newly improved releases sport better reliability, data management, and memory utilization. What does that all mean? It means you will be rocking you CAD drawings at maximum velocity!

Next, we’ll sell it to your boss.

Author: Curt Moreno

Speed Up Civil 3D with a 64-bit Operating System, Part 1: The Benefits

September 1, 2011 6 comments

Windows 7 64-bit Operating System for Civil 3DI am going to make this THE shortest and easiest tech blog post you’ve ever read: Go install Windows 7 64-bit on your Civil 3D workstation. Now!

The end.

Like the idea, but need a bit more information? Good. No one likes a sheep unless you need a sweater or are making kabobs. Let’s look at some reasons why Win7 64-bit is the way to go if you are doing some serious Civil 3D work.

Value

We can separate the big boys from the posers with one question: Do you want to get as much value as possible from your workstation investment? If the answer is yes, then you have to take a serious look at Win7 64-bit. Civil 3D workstations are capable of some amazing things with new releases of software becoming more and more powerful. But if you want those point clouds and massive topo surfaces to render as quickly as possible, you need to give your workstation room to work. That means bringing as much RAM to the table as possible.

Old-fashioned 32-bit systems (even Win7 32-bit) have a measly 4GB maximum of possible RAM and only a little of 3GB of that will be available to Civil 3D! This creates a processing bottleneck that will slow down your system and make you wonder why you even upgraded your Civil 3D. Modern 64-bit systems operate with a MINIMUM 4GB requirement and go upwards of 128GB and more, depending on your OS choice! The processing difference between 4GB on 32-bit and, say, 16GB on 64-bit is like night and day. This will give you more value from the same hardware investment.

Heavy Lifting

Each new release of Civil 3D and most CAD applications bring new and improved capabilities. From grater surface detail to larger and larger point clouds, all of these features are welcome with open arms by users. But these great new features also bring more processing overhead to CAD workstations that may already struggling. Older systems running 32-bit operating systems will show their age as these new features require greater amounts of memory, faster processing and longer rendering times.

By contrast, CAD workstations sporting modern 64-bit operating systems are ready for these challenges. As mentioned before, a 64-bit operating systems is nearly limitless in the amount of RAM it can apply to complicated tasks. But in addition to raw RAM, a 64-bit operating system using RAM more efficiently in its memory allocation and computational processing. This means that meg for meg, a 64-bit workstation manages its processor and RAM more efficiently than its older 32-bit counterpart!

Wait, there’s more. Upgrading to a 64-bit operating system affects your non-CAD tasks as well. We’ll talk about that topic next time!

Author: Curt Moreno

Cadalyst Systems Benchmark, Part 3: The Compare Option

August 30, 2011 1 comment

Previously, we discussed the meaning behind the various index scores reported by the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark. Next, we talked about operating the benchmark. In this, part 3 of our blog, we finish discussing the operation of the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark.

Compare Option

The final choice of the benchmark’s initial dialog box enables the compare option, which lets you save and compare times for different test runs. This is a powerful tool that we added to C2008 v5.1 to help us develop new tests for the benchmark itself. You can use it to easily see the effects (if any) for alternate configurations of your workstation. This option is disabled by default.

Compare Option

Compare Option

Compare Options Menu

You have six choices here. The first three concern the operation of the compare function: Save Current Test Times for Later Comparison, then EXIT; Compare Current Test Times to Previous Test Times; and Save Current Test Times and Compare to Previous Test Times.

Compare Options Menu

Compare Options Menu

The compare function lets you compare the times from two different test runs, creating a new set of relative index numbers. It calculates the index numbers based on the ratio of the test times from the first selected file compared to the test times of the second selected file. If nothing has changed and the two different test times are virtually identical, the new calculated index is approximately 1.00. Where something has changed, the new index number clearly shows the relative improvement. For example, an index number of 1.50 indicates that performance has improved by 50%. This is a handy method for directly quantifying the benefits of, say, using a RAID 0 configuration for your hard drives.

The fourth choice, Just Exit C2012, simply aborts the compare option. The last two choices deal with help dialog boxes: Enable Informational Alert Boxes and Disable Informational Alert Boxes—the default setting.

Informational Alert Boxes

If enabled, informational alert dialog boxes popup (using AutoLISP’s alert message function) to provide contextual help when saving and comparing different test results. These dialogs, one for each of the three compare options, guide you through the process of using the compare function until you are ready to disable them.

Save and Compare Inforrmational Alert Box

Save and Compare Inforrmational Alert Box

One More Option

There is a hidden option (disabled by default) that appends the actual times for each individual test, in seconds, to the end of the C2012_data.dta file. To enable this option, you must edit the C2012_indx.lsp file. You can edit this text file using Windows’ WordPad utility. To enable the option, just remove the two semicolons at the beginning of the line located near the end of the file, which reads: ;;(load “times”).

(Note: The AutoLISP interpreter ignores any code on a line after a semicolon.)

Enable Hidden Option with text

Enable Hidden Option with Text

This wraps up our blog on the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark. We hope it helps you to evaluate and compare the performance of different workstations running AutoCAD.

Author: Art Liddle

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