RAID is an option you’ll likely want to consider for a new workstation, depending on the model you choose. The acronym stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and refers to the redundancy that provides reliability and data security. By far, the most common options offered in workstations are RAID modes 0 and 1.
RAID 0 is a misleading term, as it actually implements no redundancy, but focuses on raising storage performance instead. By “striping” interleaved data across two drives, read bandwidth (but not write) essentially doubles. Unlike RAID 1, each additional drive in a RAID 0 configuration adds incremental storage. The downside? Not only does RAID 0 lack fault tolerance, but because your system is now relying on all drives to function, it is more prone to failure. If you have twice the number of the same drives, you are twice as likely to lose data.
RAID 1 is straightforward data redundancy, typically mirroring data onto at least two disks. Disks in the array can fail without compromising data integrity as long as one remains healthy. Because data is redundant, you are essentially sacrificing half your capacity in return for fault tolerance.
Where your data is stored and how often it is backed up can help you make the call on RAID 1. If your sacred data is on a server or shadow copies are being made frequently, you can probably pass on RAID 1, as you are effectively implementing redundancy already. But if your unique copy of data resides for extended periods of time on your individual desktop machine, RAID 1 can be an attractive option.
Several other RAID modes are available. RAID 5, supported on some models, offers a performance boost in disk-striping plus the fault-tolerance benefit of redundancy. The drawback of implementing RAID 5 is that it requires a minimum of three disks, thereby limiting its utility to higher-end, higher-price machines.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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
Previously, we discussed the meaning behind the various index scores reported by the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark. Here, we will talk about operating the benchmark. For our discussion, we will use the latest version of the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark, C2012 v5.4, which was recently released.
The Readme_C2012.txt file (included in the Zip file available for download) gives instructions for installing the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark. They are straightforward, so we will not repeat them here.
The initial dialog box for the C2012 benchmark offers several radio-button options for customizing the test, as well as edit boxes for recording selected information about your workstation configuration. We will discuss each item in order, working our way down from the top of the dialog box.
Record Current System Configuration
This collection of six edit boxes prompts you for key information about your system’s configuration. We strongly suggest that you take full advantage of this section; record as much data as you can at the time of the test—up to a maximum of 132 characters per edit box. This information will make your life easier when you are pouring over the test data later. The benchmark stores your responses in the C2012_data.dta file, using them as defaults the next time you run the test. (If it hasn’t changed, you don’t need to retype information for each test.) The last edit box (Remarks) lets you record general notes to yourself. The benchmark automatically determines and records the following information: AutoCAD version, graphics window size in pixels, and the current date and time.
This is where you choose which type of test to run: 3D/2D/Other Functions (the only option that includes the Total Index score), 2D/Other Functions, or 3D Functions Only. Depending upon the type of work you do with AutoCAD, you can save yourself a lot of time by choosing either of the latter two options. In addition, if you do not have at least a midrange 3D graphics card, skip the 3D test—it can take several hours to run with a low-end card.
Number of Test Loops
For our reviews, we typically choose to run three loops of the test; the benchmark automatically calculates and reports average scores and times. For the record, we have found that the scores from a single run of the test closely match the average scores from three iterations. New to the C2012 version: We added a Battery Rundown Test option, which runs 99 loops. As the name indicates, we use this option for measuring the battery performance of mobile workstations.
Next time, in part 3 of our series, we will discuss the Compare Option. Originally added to the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark strictly for our internal use, it proved to be so handy, we enabled it for everyone.
Author: Art Liddle
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary lists one definition for benchmark as: a standardized problem or test that serves as a basis for evaluation or comparison.
The Cadalyst Systems Benchmark is designed to help you evaluate and compare the performance of workstations running AutoCAD. Comparing the performance scores between workstations (or different configurations) will help you make intelligent choices when purchasing a new computer or upgrading an existing one.
The Cadalyst Systems Benchmark reports a total index score and four component index scores keyed to specific performance areas, as well as individual numbers for each subroutine of the test. Note: the index numbers are simply a ratio of the base time for an operation compared to the current test time for an operation. Larger index numbers indicate better performance.
Total Index: This is an average of the four component indexes: It gives a quick look at the overall performance for a workstation. The Total Index score is the number we focus on for our reviews, but you can dig a little deeper for additional performance information relevant to your specific requirements.
3D Graphics Index: This is closely tied to a workstation’s graphics card. Depending on the rendering mode you typically use when working with 3D models in AutoCAD, you may want to focus on just one of the 3D graphics subcategories: Wireframe, Hidden, Conceptual, and Realistic. If you don’t work with 3D models, you can safely ignore this index all together.
2D Graphics Index: This measures more than just 2D graphics performance: It effectively measures all onscreen performance that does not involve rendering a 3D model. This component of the test creates, copies, blocks, moves, arrays, changes layers, changes colors, explodes, and erases three different types of objects: orthogonal lines, radial polylines, and text. Zoom and Pan commands are sprinkled throughout each test. Don’t pay any attention to the individual subcategories for this one, what matters is the total score.
Disk Index: This measures a workstation’s performance for reading and writing files to the hard drive. Most of the drives on the market today provide similar performance. What will make a big difference is having a pair of drives in a RAID 0 configuration. For RAID 0, file operations are simultaneously split between the two drives, nearly doubling performance.
CPU Index: This gauges the performance of the central processing unit at the heart of each workstation. It has proven to be an accurate measure of relative performance, especially with the turbo-mode of the new generation CPUs.
Author: Art Liddle
Our first post introduced the idea of building of a network system for CAD operations. From an operator perspective, the workstation has the CAD application itself stored locally. But the files should reside on the shared storage device.
RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Disks
In general, you want to talk to your IT department about RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. In essence, the term describes exactly what it is – computer data storage devices that are set up to divide and replicate data among different drives. The drives are separate, but the operating system enables them to function as one disk.
RAID has many levels. One of the simplest, called RAID-1, creates an exact copy of a set of data on two or more disks. RAID-1 is useful when read performance or reliability is more important than data storage capacity. RAID-1 can be set up on a CAD workstation itself, which is common in high end workstations to ensure their uptime as well.
RAID-5 and Higher
For comparison, RAID-5 stripes both data and parity information across three or more drives. It exchanges the dedicated parity drive for a distributed parity algorithm, writing data and parity blocks across all the drives in the array. If one drive fails, the duplicated data is still safe on other drives. RAID-1 and RAID-5 are two of the most common levels, but there are many more. Your IT department can help you develop a system that meets your company’s needs.
Taking every precaution is vital because recreating CAD work is hard work. Next, we’ll discuss data vaulting.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
A network system in a CAD facility is a vital part of the operations of any CAD production team. The nature of CAD work has value far beyond the price tag of the workstation, software and server. CAD files often have hundreds of man hours wrapped in data files – time and effort that equals money.
From an IT perspective, no CAD operator should have all the work he/she does sitting on a computer. It is essential to make CAD files available as shared files. Often, teams of people work on CAD designs. Plus other people need to review the work. It’s important to have a network that facilitates the review process as well as the data integrity. Updates of CAD software have continually improved the operator’s ability to work as a team. However, a solid network is still an essential part of the CAD production environment.
Don’t Rely on Luck
We had a client with CAD files sitting on his laptop that represented 150 man hours. He had been traveling extensively overseas, and he wasn’t able to back up his computer as normal. The hard drive failed. He was lucky. At great expense, we were able to retrieve most of his data. But besides the hefty bill for recovery, he lost the time involved in retrieving the data, not to mention the mental anguish.
So, given that your CAD files represent a huge chunk of your time and mental energy, how do you prevent catastrophic failure? You make sure you have your files stored in a secure location.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
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. In part 3, we talked about processors and how they can affect your workflow. Part 4 helped you calculate how much RAM you need. Now, let’s talk about hard drives.
Hard Drive Capacity and Speed
This is an area where lots of change is happening, both in drive capacity and in connectivity options. It was not all that long ago that the 1TB drives became available, but now there are multi-terrabyte drives in a number of configurations — both for internal use and as externally mounted drives. If you’re creating design files, you’ll want to take advantage of the larger capacities, while paying attention to how much time it takes to save data to the drive and/or back up the drive for security.
Many users opt to configure their hard disks in some form of RAID configuration. Among the most common configurations, RAID 0 is the fastest RAID level, using a technique called data striping. It requires at least 2 disks. RAID 1 uses a pair of hard disks at a time to provide fault tolerance (no performance benefit) — it requires at least 2 hard disks. By using disk mirroring, the same data is written to both disks at once, so if one hard disk crashes, the same data is available from the remaining hard disk. There are other RAID configurations, but these two seem to be the most popular for workstations.
I will provide a caveat here — I’ve used RAID extensively in the past, but some bad experiences resulted in data loss and I no longer trust RAID as an option. This is strictly based on my personal experience — your mileage may vary.
Like faster RAM, higher RPM rates on drives tend to provide a percentage point or two increase in performance, so if you’re looking to eke every bit of performance from a system, this may be something you should consider.
SSD drives store data in solid state memory rather than using conventional hard disk platters. These drives tend to be both speedy and pricey at present, but some hybrid drives combine features of both HDD and SSD in one unit. These hybrid drives typically contain a large HDD with a smaller SSD cache to improve performance of frequently accessed files. These drives can provide fast system startup and fast application loading, while being less expensive than pure SSD drives, but they’re not ideal for data intensive uses.
The old adage about getting a hard drive at least twice as big as you think you’ll need still holds true.
Author: Ron LaFon