Since high performance, high scalability workstations can cost a bit more than traditional desktops or laptops, people should do some comparison shopping first. An entry-level desktop workstation can be both price competitive and still offer many features of traditionally higher priced workstations. So what should you look for when you are comparing hardware features?
Dual Core vs. Quad Core
One thing to consider is that CAD is still mostly a single-threaded application (yeah, there are some places it is not like rendering and FEA and it is slowly creeping into other aspects of CAD), but if you mainly do CAD modeling, max clock speed is the goal. On a desktop workstation, the quad core offers highest frequency (3.2 GHz) vs. the dual core (2.53 GHz). While six cores are not necessary for Solid Edge, you should consider what other applications you will be running, perhaps simultaneously, to determine the total number of cores you will need.
On a mobile workstation, however, both the quad core and dual core processors offer the same frequencies (max turbo), the quad core does so at a much higher price point. The base frequency on the quad core is lower (2.50 GHz).
Higher power graphics and more memory are both are important for CAD when loading complex models and assemblies and of course manipulating them fluidly. It is the workstation where the delineation between these components (memory, OpenGL graphics and CPU speed) and a normal desktop is most noticeable.
A couple folks on the Solid Edge forum pointed out they have gotten some good deals at the Dell Outlet store. These are not brand new systems and the inventory can fluctuate, but if you are on a tight budget this option may be for you. I’d hate to manage a CAD team where every designer has a different model, but for an individual or small shop, it might be worth considering.
Below are some sample configurations to help you in your research. These configurations were provided by Dell so Solid Edge users could have some comparisons during the Solid Edge ST4 Global Launch Event, held June 15-16, 2011, in Huntsville, Alabama.
Author: Mark Burhop – Programs Director, Velocity Technology Ecosystem – Siemens PLM.
Find Mark Burhop on Twitter http://twitter.com/burhop
Whether you are an individual user upgrading to AutoCAD 2012 design and documentation software or a CAD manager/IT professional upgrading the entire company, selecting the right system configuration is essential. The wrong decisions can cause years of frustration for the user. To build a system with greater longevity and better performance, use the recommended system requirements over the minimum requirements. In addition, when buying new hardware, consider certified hardware from Autodesk hardware partners. This is the hardware used in the development of the product.
As AutoCAD functionality continues to expand, multicore functions have been incorporated into the product, most notably in background publishing and mental ray rendering. Every available core is used and rendering is cut to a fraction of the time required on a single-core system. When it comes to rendering, the more cores the better.
In AutoCAD, graphics cards are most important if you are working with 3D models, particularly when applying visualization effects such as materials, shadows and lighting. That said, system stability can be greatly increased if you use AutoCAD Certified graphics and drivers. You will also notice better orbiting, panning and zooming performance with at least 256 MB of RAM.
During operation AutoCAD writes multiple files to the hard drive. For example, when AutoCAD performs AUTOSAVES, it writes a temporary file to disk. We have seen performance degradation in the current generation of solid state drives. We recommend standard SATA drives (7,200 or 10,000 RPMs) because of their higher reliability and faster write times.
Operating System and RAM
Operating system and RAM go hand in hand. With Windows 7, Microsoft has made great strides in stability, memory use and general quality. All modern systems should excel on Windows 7 (64-bit), when using at least 4+ GB of RAM instead of the 2 GB that 32-bit operating systems are limited to. When working on larger data sets, you will see better stability as well as reduced load and interaction times. If you are looking for a little extra performance, we also suggest going with as much RAM as possible to enable your system to crunch those big jobs in a flash.
Author: Randall Young, Autodesk Lead Engineer, Hardware Certification
The first part of this series about upgrading CAD software and hardware talked about using the Information Technology Lifecycle to help define how computer software and hardware can support your company’s business goals. These first three steps help you define the needs and measure your current productivity levels.
Define your company’s needs to understand how it uses technology. The truth is that if you are a CAD user, technology is highly relevant to your job function. In fact, we’d go so far as to say the two elements are inseparable. Summarize your company’s need as succinctly as possible. My company develops and manufactures widgets that are designed with ABC CAD software and produced via XYZ CAM software using DEFG equipment.
Measure your technology pain points and their impact on the organization’s productivity. Here’s where users get to really show how an upgrade can make their life easier. Are systems timing out? Crashing frequently? Are you missing deadlines because of system inefficiencies? Do you need better collaboration tools? List the problems and how they make your job harder, because these things are making your IT department’s job harder too.
Analyze what works and what needs to be improved. Chances are not everything is problematic, so figure out what works well, too. By identifying what is working right, you can better define the areas that need to be improved.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
Spring has sprung, and with it comes the buzz that surrounds all the announcements of new CAD software, workstations, and other hardware that burst onto the scene this time of year. As a CAD user or manager, you might be eyeing these new products and considering the benefits of upgrading. However, as is often the case, your IT department has different ideas about how your computer system should work. Here are some tips from the perspective of a systems integrator about how to speak the language of the IT professional and improve your chances of getting the hardware and software updates you need.
As a CAD user or CAD manager, you want your CAD system to work efficiently and help you get your job done on time and on budget. Your IT support staff members want that too, but they also have to weigh in on how the CAD system integrates with all the other computer software and hardware in the company.
What all parties have at heart are your company’s business goals. To instill a spirit of cooperation during system upgrades, we at StoredTech use the Information Technology Lifecycle to help define how computer software and hardware can support your business goals. Use this six-step process to develop a strategy to talk about CAD upgrades with internal departments, from your IT personnel to your company’s management team.
The overall goal is to present your CAD department’s needs in terms of their business benefits to improve the chances that they will gain acceptance. Our next two posts will explain how to do just that!
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk 3ds Max Design software are applications for the creations of special effects for TV and movies, video games and design visualization assets. With such broad capabilities, the software’s systems requirements reflect the diverse aspects of this powerful tool.
Often I see 3ds Max used to review hardware speeds and capabilities because it will draw on every morsel the hardware can give. So, while the development team here at Autodesk works hard on giving you a good list in their system requirements documents, here are some hints to help you get the most out of your 3ds Max experience.
3ds Max relies on your systems processors for a number functions, and as 3ds Max develops, more and more of these functions should become multithreaded.
The most dramatic use of processor is during rendering. Taping into every processor available on the machine, some rendering technologies like mental ray can actually draw on processors from other PCs through its distributed bucket rendering settings. So when it comes to rendering there’s no doubt that faster and more processors help.
During the course of 3ds Max software’s life, there has been the misconception that the video card contributed to the speed of rendering. With recent releases, the GPU on the video card is just NOW starting to help in the rendering process. Add to that the new viewport capabilities and the value of strong video cards has come into their own. For example, Quicksilver hardware rendering requires additional GPU resources to work effectively. A minimum of 512 MB of graphics memory should be used. A minimum of 1 GB is recommended for more complex scenes, shaders, and lighting modes. This wizard can certainly help narrow down the field.
Another consideration to your video card purchases is the amount of on board memory it will have. When it comes to loading and displaying large texture maps on screen, you will need more video memory the larger and greater the amount of textures.
Also, to optimize their products for the 3ds Max artist, many video card manufacturers develop drivers specifically for 3ds Max and their hardware.
Physical Memory (RAM)
Physical memory needs are directly proportional to scene complexity. To load all of that data into 3ds Max with texture maps, plugins, modifiers stacks, etc., will all require higher and higher amounts of physical or RAM memory. Your operating system will also affect your memory needs. 64 bit operating systems will require more physical memory, but also allow for greater amounts to be installed. So, if you are dealing with multiple objects or high numbers of polygons, you will benefit from both a 64 bit system and lots of physical memory.
What this all boils down to is a solid workstation. The more you work in 3ds Max, the more I encourage you to increase the values in the systems requirements link. 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design will use every bit you give them.
Author: Eddie Perlberg, Autodesk Application Engineer
In part 1 of Hardware for the CAD Professional, we reviewed the basics of system requirements. In part 2, we defined some commonly used terms. Now let’s look at processors in your hardware and how they can affect your workflow.
Processors, Cores and Background Processing
The heart of your system is the processor, and these days that processor might beat with more than one heart. While the headlong advance towards higher and higher processor clock speeds has waned somewhat, multi-core processors have become much more sophisticated. At the same time, more applications are supporting multi-threading, including the most capable design and visualization software packages. The move to 64-bit operating systems has been fueled by the ready accessibility of processors that will run such software and take advantage of its support for a larger memory model.
Watching an active graph of multiple cores in application is informative in that you can see tasks being assigned to and finished by each of the operative cores. Some applications, including AutoCAD, use some multitasking if multiple processors are available, but only in limited ways — for example in handling the interface and on-screen display. Visualization products such as Autodesk’s 3ds Max make more extensive use of multitasking and multicore processors. Often the cache size of the chip, bus speed, and dual vs. triple channel memory has a greater impact on performance than an application’s multitasking abilities — at least at present.
What Should I Buy?
Since multitasking and 64-bit operating systems have become the norm for CAD and Visualization software, it certainly makes sense to have one or more multi-core processors in any new system that you anticipate purchasing. When it’s time for me to purchase a new system, I tend to get whatever is the fastest and most capable processor available at the time of purchase. This ensures that I have a speedy system at present and that it won’t be obsolete for a longer period of time. As I see it, you can put in the money now and reap the benefits, rather than paying sooner when your system becomes too slow for the work you’re doing.
Before purchasing a new workstation, do your research on processors — what’s coming, when it’s expected, and what features and benefits does it bring. Also have a look at the socket it uses — will it allow upgrading processors in the future without having to purchase a new motherboard?
Author: Ron LaFon
In part 1 of Hardware for the CAD Professional, we reviewed the basics of system requirements. Now let’s look at some commonly used terms. We often hear entry level, mid-range, and high-end applied to workstations, without any clear definitions of what these mean and where the borderline between each of these categories lies. It helps to look at what each workstation is going to be best suited to do.
Defining Workstation Categories
- Entry level systems tend to be relatively inexpensive, with the intended use focused on simple drawings, drafting, and 2D work — with minimal, if any, 3D work.
- Mid-range systems are intended to cover a broader range of work, typically have more powerful graphics cards, more RAM, and more horsepower. These are typically production machines designed to produce final work.
- High-end systems are the most powerful of these three divisions, ideal for accommodating complex models, 3D graphics, rendering and visualizations. These more expensive systems are generally allocated to the most experienced users with the most demanding needs.
Time is Money
If you run a benchmark on each of these systems, you’ll find the slowest to be the entry level systems and the fastest being the high-end systems. Said another way, it takes longer to do something on an entry level system and since time translates to money, the most experienced and highly paid personnel typically get the high-end systems that everyone else wants. Time is money, and if an experienced user working on a capable system gets a given piece of work done faster, it means less of the user’s time is used and that the system is freed for other purposes sooner.
While there can be some crossover in these categories — for example, if you put a faster graphics card in an entry level system, you can achieve performance more akin to the mid-range systems. Since this tends to be a fairly costly addition, and since the gains are limited, it’s not typically considered feasible to go this route in order to get enhanced performance. A better option would be to get a more modern system that has more capabilities and faster, multi-core processors. It should be possible to obtain such a system for about the cost of the more advanced graphics cards.
Now in Part 3 of this series, let’s look at processors in your system and how they can affect your workflow.
Author: Ron LaFon
At Cadalyst we often hear questions regarding the hardware end of the equation, particularly about the system requirements to do useful work with the AutoCAD family of products. As a result, I’m starting this series of blog posts on hardware for the CAD professional, with each segment focusing on a specific area such as graphic cards, memory and hard disks.
Base Requirements Are the Starting Point
Users often have a look at the base requirements for their planned design software and plan their system purchase accordingly. For the most part, vendors such as Autodesk provide requirements based on what is considered workable speeds, not what gives the absolute best performance overall. This information makes a good starting point for configuring your workstation, but shouldn’t be thought of as the “perfect” system requirements. These days Autodesk is providing both the requirements for just running AutoCAD, along with an additional set of higher specifications required for systems creating 3D work.
Requirements for 3D Modeling
The additional requirements for 3D modeling (all configurations, 32-bit and 64-bit) include faster and more capable processors, 2GB RAM or more, 2GB of available hard disk space in addition to free space required for installation, and a graphics display adapter capable of at least 1,280 x 1,024 resolution in true color. The graphics card needs to have 128MB or more memory, support for Pixel Shader 3.0 or greater, and Microsoft Direct3D capabilities. On looking at even these more advanced requirements, they seem to be still targeting the minimum rather than the truly useful range.
Best Performance for Your Dollars
My plan is to go through the system component choices you’ll be faced with if you configure a workstation online — what will give you the best performance for your dollars. With technological innovations and higher capacity hardware, this presents a constantly changing target. We all too often receive emails from users who “bought a system that meets the specifications provided” but is still too slow for the kind of work they are doing. All too often the impact of a given system component can negatively impact overall performance. At the same time, it’s possible to make some tweaks to well-performing systems to enhance their capabilities even more.
Author: Ron LaFon
When Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD 14 was released last year, a client called us about upgrading. The upgrade was a significant one, as this company was still using ArchiCAD 10. At this point, the company’s drafters were essentially working around problems with their system, which included “Memory Full” errors when updating elevation sheets and other system timeouts.
Yet upgrading had the potential to fix more than just the memory issues. The lure of building information modeling (BIM) and improved 3D renderings made a lot of sense for this client’s business plan. This medium-sized, privately owned business specializes in custom home design and construction. The ability to improve their collaboration efforts, cut their production time while creating sophisticated 3D modeling could impact everything from their engineering department to their marketing and sales team.
64-bit Versus 32-bit Operating Systems
The company had already invested in upgrading its hardware, buying updated Dell Business Workstations. But they had yet to take the leap to a 64-bit operating system. ArchiCAD 14 was designed to use a 64-bit operating system, unlike ArchiCAD 10.
Often clients ask us about the difference between 64-bit and 32-bit operating systems. The terms refer to the computer’s processor (also called a CPU), which controls how the computer handles information. For example, the 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit system. A 64-bit operating system can make a huge difference in the ability of workstations to work with high-end CAD applications.
Our first step for the upgrade was updating the operating system on the client’s current computers to the 64-bit version of Windows. Before we did the OS upgrade, we ran some timed tests so we could compare how the system worked before the upgrade with how it worked after.
|Redraw Type||ArchiCAD 10 on
Windows 32-bit OS
|ArchiCAD 14 on
Windows 64-bit OS
|South||2 min 30 sec||58 sec|
|West||2 min 18 sec||42 sec|
|Section #1||1 min 8 sec||3 sec|
|3D Rendering – All||1 min 45 sec||22 sec|
|Elevation Sheet Update||(Stopped after 5+ min and third “Memory Full” warning)||2 min 20 sec|
These tests were on the same Dell computer with the same amount of RAM, just different versions of the Windows operating system and ArchiCAD. As you can see, the processor made all the difference in running the advanced features of CAD application, significantly cutting down the time for redraws even while running the more advanced features of the newer version of ArchiCAD.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
This blog was developed by Longitude Media, publisher of Cadalyst.
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