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Solid State Drives for CAD Workstations

April 9, 2013 Leave a comment
Computer Hard Drive

The old adage about getting a hard drive at least twice as big as you think you’ll need still holds true.

Hard drives, and SA-SCSI drives especially, face growing competition from a new breed of storage device: the solid-state drive (SSD).

An SSD stores data in solid-state memory — that is, SRAM chips — rather than on conventional hard disk platters. Today’s SSDs are large enough to be useful, and although not exactly economical, have come down enough in price that they can enter the conversation when it comes to outfitting a new workstation.

The advantage of SSDs? There are several, including less noise and better reliability in the face of environmental issues like vibration. Unlike the HDD, the SSD has no moving parts. But the real motivation to choose SSD is performance. More specifically, it’s about much lower latency, the time that lapses between asking the drive for data and receiving it. The SSD doesn’t necessarily offer a big benefit over hard drives in bandwidth — how quickly the data comes once it starts coming — but it eliminates the seek time for the hard drive’s head, delivering an indisputable advantage in access time. The downside is a glaring one: price.

Combination Drives

Given the pluses and minuses, CAD users who have a slightly higher but not unlimited budget can entertain the option of SSDs in one of two ways. A combination of HDDs and SSDs in multiple drive bays — in particular, a smaller SSD with your OS installed paired with a large conventional disk drive for data — is very practical. Or choose a hybrid drive that combines the best of both worlds. This emerging technology is effectively a two-tiered memory device that implements its bulk storage on the cost-effective hard disk while implementing a much smaller, but much lower-latency cache on SSD. For frequently accessing reasonably sized chunks of data, you get the speed benefit of SSD without breaking the bank. Whereas an SSD currently commands ten times the price (or more) per gigabyte of a conventional 7,200-RPM HDD, the hybrid drive is a relative bargain at approximately twice the price (although the premium and the performance boost will vary by model).

The bottom line on selecting storage: Buy a lot more than you think you need, especially if you’ve chosen a system that limits you to one or two drive bays.

Author: Alex Herrera

Create 3D Models with MAP-21 Requirements Using Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler

November 20, 2012 1 comment

Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler, part of the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite, Premium and Ultimate editions, is civil infrastructure software developed to:

  • Enable planners, engineers, and designers to model existing infrastructure and import detailed models in order to create realistic 3D models of the environment;
  • Sketch early-stage designs directly into 3D models;
  • Create and manage multiple alternatives;
  • Communicate visually rich infrastructure proposals; and generate preliminary design models which can be used to create submittal documentation in civil engineering software, such as AutoCAD Civil 3D.

In the following post we’ll describe how to use existing information to create compelling 3D design visualizations with MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) requirements in mind.

If you are installing Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler for the first time, review the hardware requirements to ensure your hardware will run the software efficiently. (For more advice on the best hardware configuration for Autodesk software, review our series on AutoCAD 2013. Much of the same advice applies to other Autodesk products.)

Once installed, to create a realistic 3D model using Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler:

  1. Start Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler and click new from the start page.
    Start Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler and click new from the start page.
  2. Choose a directory and name for your project.  If you know the extents of your project you can also enter them in here.
    Choose a directory and name for your project.
  3. With the project started, data is imported and used as the basis for your 3D model. Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler allows you to combine 3D and 2D data in order to create a full 3D scene.  For this post, we will use a terrain model (DEM) as our base 3D layer, and all of the other contextual data, like imagery, roads, and buildings come in 2D formats.  Click on ‘Data Sources’ from the ribbon; on the ‘add file data sources’ dropdown, select ‘Raster’.  After import this data source shows up in the ‘Data Sources’ panel.  Double-clicking the data source allows you to modify the viewing properties of this data source.  Click the ‘Close & Refresh’ button at the bottom of the configuration window to generate a 3D visualization in Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler.
    Click the ‘Close & Refresh’ button at the bottom of the configuration window to generate a 3D visualization in Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler.
  4. Add imagery using the same procedure.
    Add imagery using the same procedure.
  5. Use the same process to add roads, but use SHP as the Source Type.  In this example, roads are stored in a 2D Shapefile.  After import, double-click on the newly imported data source to configure it.  Select ‘Roads’ as the ‘Type’ in the dropdown list.  With ‘Roads’ selected you can now configure the roads style and other properties based on the metadata that comes with the Shapefile.  For instance, you can choose a style rule to match the 3D road style (striping, sidewalks, median, number of lanes, etc.) based on existing metadata.  Click the ‘Close & Refresh’ button on again to generate the 3D visualization.
    Use the same process to add roads, but use SHP as the Source Type.
    Select ‘Roads’ as the ‘Type’ in the dropdown list.
  6. Lastly, we’ll add buildings to our scenes using the same procedure outlined in step 5.  Select ‘Buildings’ as the ‘Type’ in the dropdown list.  Since the buildings in this case are 2D footprints, we’ll select an attribute with a Z-value (elevation or height) from the ‘roof height’ dropdown.  Once again click the ‘Close & Refresh’ button.
    Since the buildings in this case are 2D footprints, we’ll select an attribute with a Z-value (elevation or height) from the ‘roof height’ dropdown.

Voila! You have just created a 3D model using Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler.  You can use this model to sketch preliminary designs of new infrastructure which includes roads, railways, city furniture, water areas, and even buildings.  You can also exchange information with Civil 3D – using the IMX file type – to maintain consistent data and context as the project is further developed.  This 3D model-based approach enables you to deliver on MAP-21 requirements for 3D modeling and visualization, on infrastructure projects of varying scales.

This 3D model-based approach enables you to deliver onMAP-21 requirements for 3D modeling and visualization, on infrastructure projects of varying scales.

Author: Justin Lokitz, Senior Product Manager, Autodesk.

The Best Hardware Configuration for AutoCAD 2013, Part 4: Processor, Video Card, RAM and Hard Drive

October 31, 2012 23 comments

So far in this series, I’ve discussed how to determine if your hardware can handle the AutoCAD 2013 upgrade, how to outline your current and future needs and how to find new hardware if you decide it’s time for a new system. If you are looking for new hardware for AutoCAD 2013, here’s some specific components to look at closely.

The Processor and Video Card

Make sure to focus on the processor and the video card when looking for a new workstation. Especially the processor. This component is the most difficult to upgrade latter on.

A video card is easy enough to change out, but they can be very expensive. If you are working with 3D models and create a lot of renderings, make sure to get a good video card. “Regular” 2D CAD work will also require a good video card. Go through Autodesk’s list. Don’t fall into the trap of getting a gaming card. CAD requirements of video cards are very different from game requirements. CAD is a precision tool. Games are not. Games need speed. CAD needs accuracy.

RAM

RAM is another component that is easy to update later. Make sure you get ECC RAM (Error-Correcting Code Memory). One of the requirements of being a “workstation” is having ECC memory. This type of computer memory can detect and automatically fix common types of data corruption. That means fewer crashes while working in your CAD software!

Each motherboard will carry a certain amount of slots for the RAM chips. Get that number of chips. Each slot has a channel in which it can pump data through. If a slot is empty, then that channel isn’t being used.

Hard Drive

What are you going to do for internal storage? I’m talking about the hard drive. Workstations typically have support for RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Essentially this type of storage system has multiple hard drives, each mirroring the other. If one fails the workstation still works because the second drive is still running. It’s automatic and can keep your CAD users working. Of course this will increase cost, but it could prolong the life of your workstation.

How much storage space is enough? If you are storing data files, images, videos, etc. on your network instead of your workstation, then you shouldn’t need much storage. 500 GB should be enough for most systems, probably even 350 GB. Make a list of all of the software programs a user needs, include the operating system, and add up the space needed. Leave room for growth and there you go.

The price of hard drives is always dropping, and the amount of storage space on each drive is always increasing. Getting a little less storage capacity could help reduce cost.

Author: Brian Benton

The Best Hardware Configuration for AutoCAD 2013, Part 3: Review Recommended Hardware

October 24, 2012 3 comments
AutoCAD 2013

AutoCAD 2013

As I mentioned before, you will be better served if you treat the recommended specifications as the minimum requirements. So let’s say you have determined that you need new hardware to run AutoCAD 2013. How do you pick the proper hardware?

Autodesk, like many software vendors, has lists of certified hardware. These certifications are there to ensure users that AutoCAD 2013 will work properly when using that hardware. Autodesk has provided a list of video cards and other equipment that they promise will work. Does it mean that it will be fast? No. But they do promise it will work properly.

Independent Software Vendor Certification

Autodesk and other vendors have established cooperation with several hardware vendors to certify that the workstations you purchase will run their software. These are called ISV Certifications. ISV stands for Independent Software Vendors. If you were to purchase a workstation from Dell, HP or Lenovo (for example), they will have systems that have ISV Certifications. That means the hardware manufacturer (HP, Dell, Lenovo) has sent a workstation to Autodesk for testing. Autodesk runs the workstation through the paces and says, yes, this will properly run AutoCAD. This is important because not all computer components are created equally, nor are all components created to run CAD software.

Autodesk has a website where you can go and look at individual components, or look at full workstations to help find the system that is right for you.

ISV Certification is typically only done with workstations. Workstations are not your typical PCs. Workstations are made for durability, long-term use in harsh environments, and for high precision work. They are industrial strength machines. They will cost more, but users will find that they have less downtime, less “lag” and overall better performance. Workstations guarantee that the machine you purchase has a minimum set of requirements for video cards, processing power and storage requirements. If you are running CAD software every day, you really should be running a workstation.

Find the Right Workstation for You

How do you pick the workstation you need?

  1. Make sure it is certified by Autodesk for AutoCAD 2013.
  2. Determine your budget.
  3. Then take a look at what each vendor has to offer.

Next we’ll talk about individual hardware components to focus on.

Author: Brian Benton

The Best Hardware Configuration for AutoCAD 2013, Part 2: Current and Future Needs

October 18, 2012 3 comments
AutoCAD 2013

AutoCAD 2013

We started this series by looking at our current hardware and if it’s up for the job. Next, let’s examine if your hardware will still work with your future needs, which may include going from 2D to 3D or adding cloud computing and mobile devices to the mix.

2D vs. 3D

If you truly want to make sure you are getting proper hardware, make sure to consider the type of work you do. If all you do is 2D work, then your hardware needs will be less than if you are creating 3D models or creating photorealistic renderings. Many firms are considering a jump to 3D. If so, often new hardware will be an important part of the upgrade.

Networking

Do you reference data across your network? Networking needs can go beyond workstation issues. It’s possible your workstations are slow because they are using data on a slow server or network. Check it out.

Work in the Cloud

AutoCAD 2013 has a lot of native cloud-based integration. Will you or could you perform work in the cloud? Autodesk’s cloud-based rendering service is currently free, but this won’t last for long. They are currently offering it for free until they fully work out the costs and pricing. However, you could save on hardware costs for your rendering by using this cloud rendering service as a short term answer instead of investing in new hardware.

Mobile Devices

Will you incorporate mobile devices? Autodesk has AutoCAD WS, a mobile CAD program that can view and edit AutoCAD DWG files. This mobile connection is also built into AutoCAD 2013. This may mean that you will also need to consider mobile hardware in the form of smartphones or tablets.

Autodesk Design Suite

If you are purchasing or have upgraded to an Autodesk Design Suite then you will also have greater hardware needs.

Answer these questions before you even start looking at new hardware. Determine what you are currently doing, what you plan on doing, and what you currently have hardware wise.

Next we are going to look at those recommended requirements for AutoCAD 2013.

Author: Brian Benton

The Best Hardware Configuration for AutoCAD 2013, Part 1: Can Your Current Workstation Handle The Upgrade?

October 10, 2012 7 comments
AutoCAD 2013

AutoCAD 2013

Autodesk releases a new version of its flagship design software AutoCAD every year, as it has since AutoCAD 2004 came out in 2003. This yearly cycle poses a dilemma for CAD and IT managers because new software may require new hardware. Before you install AutoCAD 2013, you need to know if your current hardware can handle it. Budgets are tight (when aren’t they?), and production cannot stop.

Here are some steps that you can take to make sure your hardware is up to snuff to run AutoCAD 2013.

Assess Your Needs

First off, if you are currently running AutoCAD 2010, 2011, or 2012 and are completely happy with the performance of your hardware, then 2013 will probably run fine for you. If it has been three or more years since your last hardware update, it is time to look at your hardware needs. Three years doesn’t mean you will have to update your hardware, but it is a good time to assess your needs.

Start off by spec’ing out your current hardware. What operating system are you running? Are you using a Mac or a PC? Are you using the current version of your OS?

At this time, AutoCAD 2013 does not support the latest version of Mac OS — OS X Mountain Lion. An update for this should come out soon enough though. Also, Windows 8 (due in late October 2012) is not currently supported either. This doesn’t mean it won’t work, it just means that Autodesk does not guarantee that it will work or work properly. Keep the OS in mind.

If you are using a 32-bit version of Windows, consider updating your OS to a 64-bit version. AutoCAD 2013 comes in both versions, but the 64 bit version will perform better.

Minimum vs. Recommended System Requirements

Autodesk has system requirements for AutoCAD 2013. There are two categories; minimum and recommended. Each category contains lists for 32- and 64-bit systems as well as for 3D requirements. Take the minimum requirements literally. These are the minimum specs you need to turn on AutoCAD. Running with these specs in production will be painful at best.

You will be better served if you treat the recommended specifications as the minimum requirements. If your current hardware meets the recommended specifications, or exceeds them, then it is likely you will be ok. But do you want to work on a level of production that is “ok”?

Next I’ll discuss planning for future needs.

Author: Brian Benton

Hard Drives for CAD Workstations: SATA and SA-SCSI Standards

October 3, 2012 2 comments
Computer Hard Drive

The old adage about getting a hard drive at least twice as big as you think you’ll need still holds true.

The longtime, tried-and-true hard drive remains the backbone of a workstation’s storage subsystem, but a new breed of solid-state technology is pushing its limits. Although they share the same basic technology as their ancestors, today’s drives are much bigger, faster, and cheaper. Traditional workstation hard-disk drives (HDDs) primarily come in a 3.5″ form factor, supporting SATA or SA-SCSI standards.

SATA Drives

Essentially the same models that ship in corporate and consumer branded PCs, SATA drives are less expensive, sometimes dramatically so. (A terabyte for $50, anyone?) Pricing increases with drive capacity and RPM, an indication of how quickly the mechanical platter can spin within the drive and therefore how fast the drive can read and write data. The least-expensive SATA drives support 7,200-RPM speeds, while the highest-performance options jump to 10,000 RPM.

SA-SCSI Drives

The second HDD option, the SA-SCSI drive, requires a motherboard interface that is also compatible with SATA drives (whereas a SATA interface will not support an SA-SCSI drive). With SA-SCSI, you’ll get the option to move up to 15,000 RPM, but you’ll sacrifice capacity and cash.

The Choice Between Speed and Capacity

Whether you choose a SATA or SA-SCSI drive, you will generally face a trade-off between paying for more RPMs or paying for more capacity, because buying both can be costly. Most CAD professionals would opt for capacity and costeffectiveness, because running out of space or money is usually a more glaring roadblock than facing modest shortages of access speed and disk bandwidth. Many of us are paranoid about running out of disk space — and we all should be to some degree, because data piles up faster than we think it will. If this describes you, consider purchasing extra drive bays that bring more room to add drive capacity later — although you can always fall back on external drives to shore up capacity down the road.

Author: Alex Herrera

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