Archive for June, 2011

The Advantages of Eyefinity for CAD, Part 2: Adapters to the Rescue

June 30, 2011 2 comments

Okay, we’ve established that you want Eyefinity for multi-display CAD operations, and the display manufacturers and graphic card manufacturers aren’t necessarily making it easy for you.

DisplayPort AdapterIt might not seem the most elegant solution, but if you want to use your new DisplayPort card to drive an existing multi-monitor setup or you want to add low cost DVI monitors to complete your Eyefinity system, then you can buy relatively inexpensive DisplayPort adapters.

Active vs. Passive

Ah, if it were only that simple — just buy a DisplayPort adapter and all will work. Actually it is that simple, but until recently, the DisplayPort ecosystem was playing catch-up. You had to pay attention to what kind of adapter: Passive or Active.

The issue arises because DVI/HDMI requires a dedicated clock source per output.  On the other hand DisplayPort only requires one clock source to drive as many outputs as supported by the GPU.  FirePro cards offer a workaround by including two clocks which means you can simultaneously drive two DVI/HDMI displays from dual-mode DisplayPort outputs using nothing more than a Passive adapter. But to use more than two DVI/HDMI displays, you need to use an Active adapter (a cable or dongle that integrates a DisplayPort translator chip, and a DAC for the VGA case ).

Powered Active

Sounds confusing?  Wait it gets a little worse.  All of the above only refers to single-link DVI displays (displays that handle up to 1920 x 1200 resolution at 60 Hz).  If you are trying to drive dual-link DVI displays with resolutions up to 2560 x 1600 like the HP 30-inch or Apple Cinema Display, then you need a USB bus-Powered Active adapter/dongle.

Let’s Just Keep It Simple

Needless to say, this scenario of two adapters for single-link DVI and a third for dual-link DVI, caused a lot of confusion in the early days of DisplayPort and Eyefinity.  Not only could you not use your new graphics card until you ran out and bought adapters. But even with adapters in hand, you could find that you had purchased the wrong type of adapter to drive the third or fourth display.  It wasn’t an unsolvable crisis, but it was sure irritating.

Active Adapters Included in the Box

The new FirePro V7900 and FirePro V5900 cards eliminate the Passive vs. Active confusion, as well as the need to buy anything additional. The graphics cards simply come with Active adapters. You don’t need to think if you are connecting your 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th monitor.  Just plug in one of the included adapters and it supplies the conversion as needed. Simple (almost Apple-esque in the “it just works” simplicity). I hope we see more of this “included in the box” approach.

Of course, if you have a legacy dual-link display, then you still need a special bus-powered adapter. But fewer people have this setup then those with the more common multiple, single-link DVI monitors.

Next I’ll discuss the Rules of Thumb for Eyefinity setups.

Author: Tony DeYoung

The Advantages of Eyefinity for CAD, Part 1: DVI Monitors and DisplayPort Graphics Cards

June 28, 2011 7 comments
Eyefinity drives 3 or more displays simultaneously.

Eyefinity lets you drive 3 or more independent displays simultaneously from a single low-power FirePro graphics card. This technology is great for CAD users because it enables you to multi-task different workflow applications on each display or span a single CAD application across multiple displays as one desktop workspace. Check out this video showing using a three-display configuration driven by a single laptop and then tell me you don’t want it.

DisplayPort for Graphics Cards and Display Manufacturers

Whether you are talking AMD FirePro or Nvidia Quadro, DisplayPort has become the standard output port for both consumer and professional graphics cards.  Yes, there are legacy DVI ports on some cards and there are even cards specifically designed to address the legacy market (e.g., FirePro V5800 DVI). But largely the debate about standards is over, and DisplayPort is here to stay. (I have written about the advantages of DisplayPort previously.)

But while the graphics card manufacturers embraced DisplayPort early on, the display manufacturers (Apple aside) have only recently made the switch. Beginning in 2010, Asus, Dell, HP LaCie, Lenovo, and NEC released more than 80 displays supporting DisplayPort. But there are still a lot more displays released with only the less expensive DVI or VGA input connectors.

So What Do I Do with My Older Monitors? Can I Still Use Eyefinity?

So what do you do if you have a display/monitor released before 2010 that only has single-link or dual-link DVI inputs? Or perhaps more interestingly, what if you want to set up a 3- or 4-display visual workspace for your CAD workflow using Eyefinity, but some or all of the displays you plan to use only have DVI/HDMI/VGA inputs?

Next, I’ll talk about DisplayPort adapters that can help you do just that.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Troubleshoot Video Card and Driver Warnings in Revit

June 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Many users may not realize that Revit has two graphic systems supporting model display.

OpenGL is a software graphics system incorporated into Revit to control display in a variety of Windows OS environments. Since the OpenGL system uses the workstation’s CPU rather than the video card graphics processor (GPU), broad OS and video card compatibility comes at the cost of slower performance and the display of some graphic effects. Revit can use OpenGL regardless of the video system available, but some features, such as Realistic views, will be disabled.

Revit’s second graphics system is known within Autodesk as OGS, or “One Graphic System.” In a number of Autodesk products, this is used to standardize the interface between design software and graphics display. OGS takes full advantage of compatible video hardware to greatly increase graphics performance over OpenGL’s software-only approach, accelerating pan, rotate, and zoom operations because the display updates have been delegated to the video card GPU. Complex Revit model displays will take advantage of more video card memory. So, consider an amount of memory for your card in the 1GB to 2GB range.

The definition of “compatible” video hardware is the most common customer issue involving OGS in Revit. In order to get the best performance out of a workstation, Revit tests the computing environment during startup, checking the video card and driver for compatibility.

Resulting warnings largely fall into these categories:

Revit doesn’t recognize your video card or driver:
Revit Video Card Error Message

The “Problem” message could indicate that:

  • The Revit team hasn’t tested this video card and cannot assure it will function properly (or at all).
  • You have a “gaming” card unsupported by the hardware manufacturer for CAD or BIM applications.
  • The Revit team hasn’t tested the video driver and can’t assure it will work. Graphics issues caused by this mismatch may be addressed by switching to the supported driver.
    • To solve persistent graphics issues, you may have to disable Hardware Acceleration in the Options dialog.
  • The local hardware certification file may be obsolete

Revit encountered an unresolvable problem:
Revit Video Card Error Message

  • The Revit team found that your video card, driver–or both—destabilize Revit or…
  • Your DirectX install is corrupt or incomplete.
  • Revit encountered some other graphics problem.
    • Revit will disable Hardware Acceleration.

Graphics display can be an important performance consideration. Check for the latest list of tested video cards and drivers here.

Author: Anthony A. Hauck, Revit Senior Product Line Manager, Autodesk AEC Solutions Division

Dell-Sponsored TwitterChat with Lynn Allen on AutoCAD WS Web Service

June 23, 2011 1 comment

Did you miss our Dell-Sponsored TwitterChat with Lynn Allen? We archived the conversation here so you can check out the conversation.

View “AutoCAD WS TwitterChat with Lynn Allen” on Storify.

Tune in to the next installment in our TwitterChat series! Click here for more details.

A CAD Manager’s Guide to Hardware Upgrades, Part 2

June 21, 2011 5 comments

The first post in this series discussed upgrade procedures under various organizational structures. Now, we dive into prioritizing upgrades. One thing is certain: as long as CAD software increases in power there will always be a need for upgrading and replacing CAD workstations.

Hardware Upgrades for CAD ManagersUpgrades Based on Workload

While some companies have a policy of replacing all of the CAD workstations simultaneously, others provide workstations based on workload. “Typically I have prioritized computer upgrades in offices in a method similar to a nurse’s triage at a hospital,” Chris Currie wrote in the Cadalyst LinkedIn group.

Currie’s practice is certainly not unusual in the CAD world. With any one office participating in several disciplines or practices, it is very common for users in the same office or department to have differing needs. That is to say that the entry level CAD professional may not be doing the more complex, intense work of a senior employee.

Reusing Hardware Based on Functionality

Often companies seek cost savings in the area of hardware by moving workstations down. Drafters performing complex work may receive new workstations while more junior drafters receive the workstation being replaced. In effect, everyone gets a “newer,” more powerful workstation while providing a cost savings to the company.

Standardizing the Process

CAD software becoming increasingly powerful each year and the need for upgraded hardware does not look to end any time soon. It would help any CAD manager to standardize the process for upgrades to make the process less difficult. Take the lessons learned from this year’s hardware upgrade and document them to help you during future upgrades.

Whether your hardware upgrade procedure is well defined or a haphazard per event trial, leave us a comment below and tell us about it. CADspeed would love to hear from you whatever your process for requesting and providing new hardware may be.

Author: Curt Moreno

A CAD Manager’s Guide to Hardware Upgrades, Part 1

June 16, 2011 1 comment

Previously on CADspeed, we’ve talked about upgrading CAD hardware from the IT perspective. Now let’s talk about the same subject, but from the perspective of the CAD manager’s desk.

It is that time of the year again when summer is in full effect and the fiscal year is well under way. The new releases of your favorite software programs are starting to roll in and you cannot wait to get them all installed. But, are you sure that your hardware is up to the task of all that new software? Will your current workstation have enough RAM? Will that old video card be enough to create the shiny 3D images on the developer’s website? As the CAD manager, these are all things that need consideration. So, exactly how do you go about the process of deciding what hardware needs to be replaced, who gets new workstations and what do you do with the old hardware?

The Responsibilities of IT Personnel vs. CAD Managers

We discussed hardware upgrades with several CAD professionals in the LinkedIn Cadalyst group to learn about their upgrade procedures. Some participants said their company has a dedicated IT professional who steps in to assist the CAD manager in hardware decisions. In some cases, the IT department had set schedule for hardware upgrades and cycling out workstations.

In other cases, IT would fulfill upgrade requests on an “as needed” basis. While this can be a real time saver for the CAD manager, it can easily turn into a difficult time sink. Difficulties can arise when IT does not fully understand the needs of the CAD department or its software.

Convincing the Decision Makers

One CAD manager said that his IT department did not fully understand the needs of modern CAD software. “I have a constant uphill struggle to convince the [IT] policy makers that CAD and GIS stations exist in much more demanding environment.” This type of situation results in hours and hours of research for CAD managers. Time is spent visiting developer and hardware maker websites and collecting data to convince the policy makers. All of which is needed because the IT department may have a standard, preapproved, specification for office computers. However, as most CAD professionals already know, the hardware needed to run Microsoft Word is very different from that needed to run GIS software. All too often, this situation resolves into an adversarial relationship between the CAD and IT departments.

On the other end of the spectrum is the CAD manager with little or no IT support. Whether or not there is a designated IT department in the company, these CAD managers are the main support for the CAD department. This creates a situation where the CAD manager has increased input on the need and specification for CAD hardware making for a Wild West tech situation. Of course, it is always nice to have more input on the hardware used every day, but this too can equate to a great deal of time and effort. In addition to researching and being aware of changing hardware needs, the CAD manager is now responsible for the success of that hardware and the reallocation of old hardware. That can be a good deal of unwanted pressure for any CAD manager.

Finally, somewhere between the above situations, is the mix of IT support and CAD manager input. This is probably the most common situation found in engineering and architecture offices everywhere. CAD managers and IT work together to create a specification that will suit the particular workflow. While IT may be key to acquiring, assembling and deploying hardware, it often falls to the CAD manager to recommend which users get the newest hardware.

Next we will talk about prioritizing upgrades.

Author: Curt Moreno

Hardware Configurations for Solid Edge and Other CAD Applications

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment

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).

More Power

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.

Hardware Configurations for CAD Workstations

Hardware Configurations for CAD Workstations

Hardware Configurations for Mobile CAD Workstations

Hardware Configurations for Mobile CAD Workstations

Author: Mark Burhop – Programs Director, Velocity Technology Ecosystem – Siemens PLM.
Find Mark Burhop on Twitter

The Advantages of Solid-State Drives for Solid Edge and Other CAD Applications

June 9, 2011 1 comment

A few of us CAD folks are experimenting with solid-state drives (SSDs), since they give fast boots and quick launches of Solid Edge (and most other high-end software programs). However, SSDs cost more than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), so only a lucky few are getting them.

SSDs use solid-state memory to store data and provides access just like a traditional block i/o HHD. However, SSDs use microchips to retain the data, which contain no moving parts. In contrast, HDD are electromechanical devices with spinning disks and movable read/write heads. The advantage is SSDs are typically less susceptible to physical shock, are silent, and have lower access time and latency. Because SSDs use the same interface as hard disk drives, they can easily replace them in most applications.

The folks at Dell pointed out to me that:

For mobile workstations, the best configuration and for a relatively inexpensive solution, the SSD minicard is a good alternative. The OS (boot) drive is the minicard and a regular HDD is the data drive for application data. With this solution you get the fast boot time of the SSD and the large capacity (and less expense) of the HDD. Also, SSDs, with no moving parts, have the highest durability with up to 15 times more shock and impact resistance than standard hard drives. Hard disk drives (HDDs) have moving parts, which makes them more vulnerable to certain impacts, vibrations and other movements that can lead to drive failure and potential data loss. SSDs, shock-mounted hard drives and free-fall sensor drives can all help reduce the risk of failure.

If being a happier employee doesn’t sell your boss on an SSD drive, tout the benefits of working faster while having fewer failures due to accidentally slapping your computer during a slow boot. Read more about Solid Edge and hardware configurations at the Siemens PLM blog.

Author: Mark Burhop – Programs Director, Velocity Technology Ecosystem – Siemens PLM.
Find Mark Burhop on Twitter

Reprogram Your Mouse for Custom CAD Commands at Your Fingertips

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Each mouse driver is slightly different, but all have the same basic functions. You will always have the ability to program mouse buttons when you have a multibutton mouse.

I try to buy mice with the standard right-click and left-click buttons and wheel, plus one additional button for the thumb. (Sometimes it’s nice to have a mouse with a “thumb” button on both sides of the mouse — similar to the Logitech MX310 shown below — so you can program it for a right- or left-handed user.)

To reprogram a multibutton mouse such as a Logitech MX310, G5, or G3 (or any typical gaming-style mouse), start by going to Control Panel and selecting Mouse Properties. You will typically find a Button tab at the top of the Mouse Properties dialog box.

Mouse Properties - Control Panel

The normal AutoCAD settings for a Logitech mouse are as follows:

  • Left mouse button (shown above as item 1) is set to Click/Select. This is the normal default setting.
  • Right mouse button (shown above as item 2) is set to Context Menu/Alternate Select. This is the normal default setting.
  • Wheel button (shown above as item 3) is set to Middle Button. This is a change to the standard setup. To do this, pick item 3 from the pull-down menu, click the Modify button, then click the Middle Button option as shown below. The Middle Button option gives the user the proper Zoom and Pan functions within AutoCAD.

Modify Button Function

Last is the “thumb button” (shown in the first image as item 4), which is set to the Escape option in this example.

Modify Button Function

The MX310 has two thumb buttons — one on either side of the mouse — so you can program it whether you are left- or right-handed. Based on many users’ experience, the best approach is to program the correct button based on the individual’s dominant hand, then program the opposite button to “unassigned.” This prevents the user from accidentally pressing a command with the pinky finger.

(Note: Many multibutton mice, such as the Logitech G5, have the capability to assign the key to the thumb button by simply pressing which key to assign.)

Typical settings for the G5 are as follows:

  • Select Button: Choose item 4 (right thumb button) in the Select Button window.
  • Select Task: Click on the Keystroke Assignment button, move your cursor to 3a, and specify Keystroke. For example, to select the Esc button as shown below, press the Escape key on the keyboard so the word “Esc” appears in the box at 3a. Click Apply and OK.

Modify Button Function

Once you get used to activating custom CAD functions with a touch of a button, you will never want to go back.

Author: Richard Leveille

Categories: Accessories Tags: , , ,

OpenCL Will Rock the CAD World, Part 4: What You Should Do About It Now

June 2, 2011 2 comments

So far in this series, we’ve talked about why you want OpenCL, how it works, and how it will affect your CAD workflow. The question remains: what should you do about OpenCL right now?

Avoiding the VHS vs. Betamax War

OpenCLArguably one of the most important elements of OpenCL is that it is an open standard, not controlled by any one vendor and not limited to one kind of graphics cards or CPU. Microsoft has DirectCompute. Nvidia has the proprietary GPU-only CUDA.  But OpenCL is vendor neutral with incredible momentum and the only solution that is designed for the next generation of heterogeneous computing coming from Intel and AMD.

Heterogeneous Computing Makes OpenCL Even More Relevant

Heterogeneous computing is the new term you will hear to refer to integrated CPUs and GPUs on a single die  (e.g., AMD’s Fusion APUs or Intel’s Sandy Bridge). This is the future of mobile, handheld and desktop computers.  The APU design is both more power efficient and solves the problem of data transfer latencies between the CPU and GPU.

This shift in processor design makes OpenCL even more relevant and ubiquitous. Because GPU and CPU are on the same die, there is no bandwidth or bus latencies when transferring data between CPU and GPU. OpenCL code runs full throttle.  For additional performance, add in a discrete workstation graphics board. Any OpenCL-savvy application will automatically and seamlessly take advantage of the additional compute power.

What’s a CAD User to Do Now?

Chances are you already have a workstation graphics card in your desktop or mobile workstation. What you want are applications that take advantage of OpenCL.  The best way to accelerate this is to contact your preferred CAD/CAE software vendor (e.g. ANSYS, Autodesk, CEI, Dassault, ESI, Intelligent Light, MCS, Siemens to name a few) and ask them when they will be adding OpenCL for new features or to accelerate existing features in their application.  Most of the significant players are already working on it, so your voice just helps them get their products to market faster.

I’m going to be following the upcoming AMD Fusion Developer Summit very closely. Much of this conference is focused on OpenCL, so I am expecting to see some interesting announcements and demonstration that show off OpenCL capabilities.  I’ll post updates as I hear them.

Author: Tony DeYoung