Archive for September, 2011

Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 2: Reduced Hardware Costs

September 29, 2011 4 comments

We’re talking about remote graphics in this series. We’ve outlined the potential benefits for CAD users, and now we’re going to get more specific.

The Remote Graphics 4:1 Advantage

Many companies are looking for ways to cut back on their IT spend and want to purchase hardware and software solutions that allowed them to do more with less. By implementing a remote graphics solution that is capable of supporting more than one user on zero clients, that’s fewer workstations and graphic cards you have to buy and support.

FirePro RG220 Remote Graphics card The FirePro RG220 Remote Graphics card for example, supports hardware-accelerated PCoIP compression and is capable of supporting up to four users on thin clients with a single professional graphics card and at least one quad-core CPU server running the Parallels Workstation Extreme 4.0 hypervisor.

At each users desk, in addition to keyboard, display and mouse, there is just a PCoIP-supporting thin or zero client that is mapped to the graphics card. And it doesn’t matter where these four individuals sit (well they do need to be within 100 miles). As long as they have a 10+ MB/sec network connection (sorry your 3G MiFi card won’t do the trick), they can use the remote computing solution.  For more complex modeling a 20-50MB connection is recommended (i.e., a standard office Ethernet LAN, Verizon Fios connection, or even my high-speed Comcast line).

Now obviously we aren’t talking about four users manipulating multi-million polygon 3D models and rendering.  That can tax a single high-end FirePro or Quadro card.  But in many engineering/CAD firms, many users are working on 2D AutoCAD DWG drawings or are working on medium-complexity 3D projects that would generally require the resources of a low-end 3D graphics card like the FirePro V4800.

Next up, we’ll outline the benefits for the heavy-duty 3D CAD user.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 1: Will It Work for You?

September 27, 2011 6 comments

Remote Graphics for CADThere is a growing demand for portability, energy conversation and cost savings in the CAD world — hence the movement to small form factor devices use of the cloud for review and commenting. But there still remains the need for complex 3D graphics, security and high performance computation.  Hence killer workstations and professional graphics cards like the FirePro or Quadro.

So how do you get the best of both?  Is it even possible and under what conditions?  This thought was exciting to me as I read all of the press releases talking about new remote graphics solutions tapping into professional workstation graphics cards.  So I decided to do some research beyond the marketing brochures in order to find out what is real today for remote graphics as a high performance and viable solution for professional CAD firms.

What is Remote Graphics for CAD?

In a nutshell remote graphics is the ability to have a full CAD computing experience — with display, keyboard and mouse — but the actual 2D/3D computing is done on a device that sits in the data center. The experience can be virtually (no pun intended) equivalent to a regular desktop workstation. In fact if you just sat down and started doing some basic CATIA work on one of these systems, you probably wouldn’t realize the workstation was missing from your desk until you went to power off the system, charge your phone or save files to a USB thumb drive.

When Would You Really Want/Benefit from Remote Graphics?

If you are truly a 3D power user or if money, desktop space, green-ness and security are  total non-issues for you, then don’t even think about remote graphics.  It is not for you.

But as a CTO or IT manager responsible for outfitting several employees who work on less complex designs and models, or outfitting employees/contractors working on sensitive projects (at any level of complexity), current remote graphics solutions can help to:

  1. Support more CAD employees with less equipment
  2. Keep security tight on sensitive 3D/2D CAD projects
  3. Reduce time spent servicing and managing systems
  4. Reduce power and cooling costs

Sounds interesting, huh? Next we’ll discuss these benefits in more detail.

Author: Tony DeYoung

What Type of Computer Do You Use for CAD Work?

September 23, 2011 6 comments

Since early August, has been running a poll asking users, “What type of computer do you use primarily for CAD-related work?” As this post went live, 905 people had voted.

As every user knows, CAD software isn’t your standard PC software. It takes some horsepower to work with these heavy-duty programs. Add 3D rendering, design analysis, or other high-end tools, and you’ve got to have a machine with some muscle behind it. So we aren’t too surprised that our poll results show that desktop professional workstations are, so far, the most common among our readership (37%). The standard desktop PC is a close second (35%).

Mobile workstations (11%) and standard PC notebooks (8%) are making a respectable showing in our poll. Mobile computers offer a great deal of flexibility, especially for those who travel, and in recent years have evolved to offer power that’s comparable to that of a desktop system. However, that mobility comes at a price. Whether opting for a mobile workstation or standard PC notebook, the user can expect to pay a premium for mobility. This may be the greatest factor behind most companies’ decisions to opt for desktop systems.

Last, but just as intriguing, is the number of Mac users (7%) who have responded. Mac OS owns about 10.7% of overall PC market share as of summer 2011, according to research firm Gartner. However, fewer Mac-based software solutions are available for the Mac user vs. the PC user — in fact, AutoCAD for Mac was absent from the market for nearly two decades until its reintroduction

last year — which likely explains the nearly 4% lower adoption rate indicated by our poll. As Mac continues to grow in popularity and software developers continue to introduce more Mac-based CAD products, this number will no doubt increase.

So, what type of computer are you using for CAD? Are you part of the desktop crowd, going mobile, or having a Mac attack? It’s not too late to chime in. Vote today!

Test your powers of prediction and comment below on any hardware trends you see in the CAD world!

What type of computer do you use for CAD work?

Current poll results

Detect AutoCAD Type: 32-bit or 64-bit?

September 21, 2011 3 comments

Mathew Kirkland has put together a routine that will determine whether the version of AutoCAD installed on a particular machine is 32-bit or 64-bit. This is useful if you manage various machines in a mixed environment, because some third-party routines require different files to be loaded depending on the version.

View the complete tip and post your feedback.

Want more information about upgrading to a 64-bit operating system? Check out Curt Moreno’s series on CADspeed!

Choose the Best Display for Your CAD Work, Part 2: Getting the Most for Your Money

September 15, 2011 3 comments

Previously we covered the important characteristics to look for when choosing your next CAD display. Here, we finish our discussion with some suggestions about shopping and costs, as well as what you will need to get the best possible image out of your new display.

Seeing is Believing

As the old proverb states, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” If possible, view your potential display up close and personal — before you buy. Ideally, you should view the candidate displays under the same lighting conditions as those of your office. Also, don’t be afraid to bring an 8× magnifying loupe with you. You can learn a lot about a display by examining it at the pixel level. Quality displays will have well-defined, tightly packed groups or rows of red, green, and blue dots. These are the primary colors for the additive color process of light, as opposed to cyan, magenta, and yellow, which are primary for the subtractive color process of pigments. (Hah—I worked in a quick physics lesson.) Lesser displays will look blurry or fuzzy at the pixel level.

What You Should Expect to Pay

What you pay for your display depends on several factors, including the size, quality, and feature set, as well as where you purchase it. At the low end, budget at least $500 for a medium-quality 24″ display. On the other hand, you can easily spend $2,500 for a high-quality 30″ display. Without mentioning vendors or models, if we were in the market today for a CAD display, we would be looking at a good-quality 27″ LED backlight LCD display at a cost of about $1,000. Remember, you are going to be spending a lot of time with your choice of display, spend the extra money now, so you don’t have regrets later.

Adjusting Your Display

After you have made your decision and have your new display in hand, don’t stop there. Get the most out of your new LCD panel with DisplayMate for Windows ($69; downloaded), an excellent software-based utility for fine-tuning your display. Cadalyst has used DisplayMate, from Sonera Technologies (, for all of its monitor reviews since it first earned our Highly Recommended rating in 1995.

DisplayMate screenshot

Screen shot of the DisplayMate application.

This wraps up this series. We hope you find it helpful when you are shopping for a display. In a future blog, we will take a detailed look at DisplayMate for Windows.

Author: Art Liddle

Choose the Best Display for Your CAD Work, Part 1: Where to Start

September 13, 2011 3 comments

Monitors for CADWhat is the single most important hardware decision for any CAD user? Their choice of display. This is especially true given the short half-life of today’s workstations. You may have to live with your display through two, or even three, different workstation purchases.

Where to Start

First, the biggest factor affecting your choice of display is cost. Please: Do not scrimp on your display budget. If you must cut back on costs, hold off on that extra system memory or hard drive storage (you can upgrade both later).

Second, buy the largest display that fits your budget and quality specifications, as well as workspace. The bare-bones minimum size for even semi-serious CAD work is 24″. If you buy anything smaller, you will regret it every time you execute an extra zoom or pan to get the required view: During the course of a single workday, there might be hundreds of such productivity-killing distractions. We strongly recommend a minimum 27″ display for anyone that works fulltime with CAD.

Third, the transition away from CRT- based displays is complete. Today’s display choices are LCD-based. The newest type of displays, sometimes listed as LED, are really just a type of LCD panel that uses energy-efficient LEDs for the backlight. These present a more pleasing and evenly distributed light to the screen.

Other Things to Consider

Here is a list of other factors, listed roughly by importance, to consider when
shopping for your next display.

  • Resolution: For 24″ class displays the maximum resolution should be at least 1920 pixels across horizontally. At the high end, expect 2560 pixels for 30″ displays—see note below about graphics card.
  • Brightness: Measured in cd/m2 (candelas per square meter), look for a minimum rating of 250, and preferably 300 and above.
  • Contrast: Rating of at least 1000:1 is ideal. (Not to be confused with dynamic contrast, which may be listed as 1,000,000:1 or higher.)
  • Response time: Should be no higher than 8ms; shoot for under 6ms. Some high-end displays now claim 2ms response times.
  • Viewing angle: At least 170° is reasonable. Newer displays now offer 178°.
  • Screen surface: This factor may be more or less important to you, depending on how harsh the light is in your workspace. In general, you will give up some brightness for more glare control.
  • Color depth: Today’s minimum of 24bit (16.7 million colors) is fine for most CAD users.
  • Color Accuracy: Not essential for most of you, unless you are creating drawings or renderings for publication where it is important to match colors for printing.
  • Connection options: Expect at least D-sub and DVI connectors; many new displays now support DisplayPort, the latest video/audio standard.
  • Graphics Card: To ensure that you get the most out of your new purchase, double-check that your graphics card handles the display’s maximum resolution and supports its best available connection option.

Next time, we will finish our discussion on choosing a CAD display, and make a suggestion on how to get the most out of your new purchase.

Author: Art Liddle

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.


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