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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.

Value

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

Find the Optimal Hardware Configuration for ArchiCAD

August 23, 2011 5 comments

One of the most common questions our tech staff gets from customers is “What is the best hardware config for ArchiCAD?” It’s easy to go overboard and buy the most expensive of everything, but many times less expensive components are almost just as good. The “optimal” configuration is almost as fast as the “best” configuration, with a more attractive price tag.

Let’s review the priorities:

CPU

The processor is still the most important component of your config. Since ArchiCAD supports multiprocessing, we recommend 4-core processors. 6 and 8 cores are significantly more expensive while providing little benefit, so 4-core is the most optimal choice. Pick something from the middle range — prices rise exponentially with performance.

RAM

ArchiCAD supports 64-bit. To see the benefits of this, you need at least 8GB of physical RAM. While most of the times ArchiCAD will use significantly less than this, since RAM is now cheap there is really no reason to economize here. There are times when you will run multiple copies of ArchiCAD or run other applications simultaneously.

Hard Drives

ArchiCAD stores cached data while it operates, so there is a lot of file I/O going on while working in ArchiCAD — not just when saving files. Therefore hard drives are a key — and often overlooked — speed factor. With the price of solid state drives coming down considerably in the past year, they might be a sensible investment. You don’t need a huge SSD. You are better off with a smaller (say 128GB) SSD combined with a large conventional hard drive. You will install the system and ArchiCAD on the SSD, but you will store files on the conventional drive.

Video Cards

ArchiCAD uses hardware acceleration in both 2D and 3D. That said, while the importance of hard drives is often underrated, video cards are often overrated. In general we can say that it is more important to have a recent video card than a particularly high-end video card. It’s not a bad practice to replace the video card at the half of your computer’s lifespan.

When you buy a new card, it’s important to have enough video RAM. We currently recommend 1GB. Drivers are key for optimal performance. If you want to have a peace of mind about drivers, you might consider going with a “professional series” video card — at a much heftier price. You can find a list of recommended cards in our knowledge base.

Monitors

Screen real estate is a huge productivity factor. Here we have only one recommendation: The bigger the better. You can also hook up two monitors, if your video card supports that.

Author: Gergely (Greg) Kmethy, Team Leader, Technical Support, Graphisoft

Four Practical Approaches to Improving SolidWorks Performance

July 27, 2011 4 comments

SolidWorksWhat goes into improving SolidWorks performance? Way too much. Really, programs, CAD software should be more simple. Hardware should be more simple, but for the very reason that software and hardware are not developed together, we’re faced with attempting to optimize both and you… are faced with this article.

You can break all the aspects of performance and what goes into optimizing your system into four practical approaches. You can apply these to a large company, small company or an individual. You can use it as a checklist or give it to IT and tell them to get their act together.

Software Performance

SolidWorks is a strange beast. You’ll get optimal performance one time and then something changes to totally confuse you. How you create your model — keeping files together, reducing external references, optimizing relations — helps. These are all things that a bit of training and a solid slap can solve. Beyond that, you can improve performance by going into the SolidWorks options and turning off the SolidWorks news feed, reducing level of detail and setting the search to index only when idle. RealView adds more realistic visuals for material and environments. If you notice lag, try toggling it off under View / Display / RealView. All good things to know, but none of this will matter as much if you have optimized hardware.

Hardware Performance

For best performance with SolidWorks, it’s always best to start with hardware. You’ll find better performance with SolidWorks with a faster CPU. Max that sucker out. Multiple CPUs, even better. Recommended RAM for current SolidWorks versions is 6GB. It’s cheap, toss it in. A 1GB graphics card will provide smoother visuals. Turn off visual effects for Windows. Go to Performance Info and Tools in the Windows Control Panel and adjust for best performance. Keep your computer clean. Use programs like Speccy to monitor your system, Defraggler to keep your system defragged and CCleaner to keep that registry and program list optimized.

Software Life Cycle

Keeping software updated can be challenging, particularly when new versions of software that are used together come out at different times throughout the year. For best performance increases and time to allow testing of new functionality, I suggest a 14-18 month update cycle. This allows for at least one Service Pack (point release) of SolidWorks and provides time for a soft roll-out of the update.

Hardware Life Cycle

I list this last because it’s often the coldest piece of cod to swallow. Hardware is expensive. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the necessary upgrades that you will need over the years, especially in light of SolidWorks software updates and the need to keep employees or yourself super efficient. 2-year hardware cycles are often ideal for three reasons. It keeps you apprised of the technology, improves power efficiencies/capabilities and you get a better tax break for donating the old stuff to charity.

We view performance as software that doesn’t crash and hardware that doesn’t make us wait around. There’s always something you can do to make it all run a little better. The bottom line is this: Keep on a clear update cycle for software and hardware. Deal with hardware performance first, maxing out CPU speed, then deal with the intricacies of the software itself. You’ll have a smoother running system and you’ll be a much happier SolidWorks user.

Join Josh Mings for a TwitterChat on Thursday, July 28 at 4 p.m. ET. We’ll be talking about performance on SolidWorks. Follow the conversation at #dellcad and jump in!  Click for more information.

Josh Mings is a mechanical engineer in the aircraft interiors industry. He is a CSWP with certified training and support for SolidWorks. He is editor of SolidSmack.com covering CAD, design and technology and is co-host of Engineer vs. Designer at evd1.tv. Follow him on Twitter@joshmings and @solidsmack or find him at LinkedIn or Google+.

Optimize AutoCAD Civil 3D Performance: Hardware, Operating System and Workflow Upgrades

July 25, 2011 3 comments

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012Many AutoCAD Civil 3D users are aware that upgrading to a 64-bit operating system, preferably Windows 7 and Windows Vista (in that order), will give the biggest return on investment when looking at improving performance.  Other opportunities to improve performance also exist.

One is multiple or multi-core processors.  For the most part, AutoCAD Civil 3D runs as a single process, which means it will not utilize more than one processor, even if they are available.  The exception to this is rendering, where multiple or multi-core processors can result in as much as a 250% decrease in render time.  Though Civil 3D does not take advantage of multi-core processing, having multiple processors can still be beneficial since it enables you to run processes, such as anti-virus and firewall software, as well as other applications—such as Outlook—on separate processors and provide a more dedicated processor for AutoCAD Civil 3D. If you are a user who multitasks throughout the day and runs several applications at the same time, you may see added benefits in multiple or multi-core processors.

When contemplating hard drives, you should consider the data transfer rate.  Faster data transfer rates will help decrease the time it takes to open Civil 3D, as well as load and save drawings that are stored locally.  In addition, a faster transfer rate can increase performance when utilizing the hard drive for virtual memory, especially with 32-bit operating systems.

Beyond hardware and operating system changes, there are tactics you can implement to improve the performance of your day-to-day work in Civil 3D.  These include

  • Using code set styles with no fill or a solid fill. Stay away from hatch patterns.
  • Avoid using the option to grid clip profile views until producing construction documents.  When working with pipe networks, turn off hatching, pipe cleanup and masking until producing construction documents.  Using the option ‘Display as boundary’ is also optimal.
  • Use single-label components versus multiples.
  • When working with surfaces use 1) external point files versus COGO points, 2) surface snapshots when possible, and 3) Level of Detail (LOD) display
  • When working with corridors, turn off rebuild automatically and don’t display regions you aren’t working with. Additionally, create cross sections in a separate drawing.

This combination of operating system, hardware, and workflow adjustments can help to optimize your experience working with AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Authors: Karen Weiss, Transportation and Land Infrastructure Industry Marketing Manager, Autodesk; Jason Hickey, Senior Support Specialist, Autodesk

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 http://twitter.com/burhop

How Advances in Mobility Technology Will Affect the CAD Workplace, Part 2

May 26, 2011 2 comments

How Mobile Technology Will Affect the CAD WorkplaceIn my last post, I theorized how advances in mobility technology will affect the CAD workplace. Now, what are these wandering CAD minstrels going to work on? Oh, that is the beauty of it all.

In this vision of the future that I have, mobile CAD applications and platforms will pop up everywhere. Today your CAD workstation weighs about, what … 15 pounds? What if it weighed one pound? What if it weighed less than pound? With current tablet technology, that is precisely what a mobile CAD station weighs! Imagine a future where technology brings us interfaces that are just a screen and no thicker or perhaps screens that fold or roll up for storage.

Think back to your childhood when we all watched the Warner Brothers cartoon that depicted the “House of the Future.” Remember all of those outlandish and whimsical imaginations of the robotic maid and the rehydrated seven-course meal? Use that mindset and imagine a world where your CAD interface isn’t on your tablet or phone. Imagine that is so archaic that it is laughable.

No, the future of mobile CAD is a world with holographic interfaces. It is a world where augmented related toolsets combined with GPS tracking and accelerometers allow us to see the unseen. Architects and planners will be able to visit a bare site and through the window of their “tablet” see the future construction in real space! They will walk around and see if the sink is too far from the kitchen island. If it is, they will use a tactile interface to revise the design and update the server files.

Right Here, Right Now

Would you like to know what the absolutely best thing about my insane vision of the future is? It is here, now. We are walking around in a world of people who are never unplugged. Information is flying at us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the little screens in our pockets and bags are lighting up and buzzing. Now that developers have seen the future begun to create software for this mobile tech, we are off and flying!

Maybe the screens aren’t folded and put into back pockets and the interfaces aren’t tactile, holographic systems. Nevertheless, the power to leave your desk behind and get at least some of your work done on the go is here. Now! So upload or email your drawing to your cloud or mobile device. Take your dog to the park and enjoy the breeze while he plays and you review those General Notes. If something needs to be changed, do it there on the bench. Do it today because who can say where technology will let us work on our CAD files in the future.

 Author: Curt Moreno

Select the Right System Configuration for AutoCAD 2012

May 10, 2011 9 comments

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.

Processor

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.

Video Card

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.

Hard Drive

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

Plan a CAD Software and Hardware Upgrade, Part 3: Find the Right Solutions

April 28, 2011 2 comments
Do your research for CAD upgrades.

Do your research before asking about upgrades.

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. The first three steps help you define the needs and measure your current productivity levels. Next we’ll discuss how to recommend solutions.

Step 4

Recommend solutions that fit your business. If you are going to the company’s decision makers with a problem, it’s best to have the solution. Take the initiative to find out the benefits of the upgrades you want, and then include those as part of the solution. Also, be aware of any software system requirements. Your new CAD software might require Windows 7, but will your other, older applications work on that operating system? Do your own research now to prevent unpleasant surprises after your company invests in new computer systems.

Step 5

Think outside the box. Many design professionals and their IT personnel understand that software upgrades, particularly upgrading from 2D to 3D CAD or taking on demanding design analysis or visualization applications, means you also need to increase computing power. What many don’t realize, however, is that simply increasing the memory or processing power of a standard desktop PC isn’t necessarily enough. Be sure to work with IT to fully consider the value of upgrading to a professional workstation. Many workstations are certified for specific CAD applications. They can improve throughput as well as decrease down time to such a degree that they often pay for themselves within months of integration — and many of the latest models start at prices that are comparable to those of standard PCs. Work with your IT contacts to be sure you consider all hardware options, not just the familiar. You’ll be more productive and your IT department will spend less time addressing system crashes.

Step 6

Consider managed services. Here’s the gist: Your IT personnel have a lot of things to deal with on a daily basis. Many companies are using managed services to control the workload. Managed services are externally provided operations and management capabilities delivered over a networked infrastructure, using a monthly subscription model or recurring charge. Managed services can be provided for networks, security, databases, servers, storage, and applications. Think of managed services as making your IT personnel’s job a little easier, instead of harder. Find out how managed services might fit in with your company’s upgrade plans. Automated Windows system updates, CAD licensing services and security patches are good examples of managed services that will keep you focusing on your CAD designs instead of calling your IT personnel about computer problems.

Explaining how technology integrates with your company’s business goals will make it easier for your management team to understand your suggestions for upgrade. Once all parties are on the same page, you’ll have a much stronger position for advocating for the hardware and software upgrades that can help you do your job better.

Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund