Reality capture is a boom business for the building industry. With roughly 5 million existing commercial buildings in the United States alone, it’s easy to understand why. Laser-scanner-based reality capture is the dominant methodology used today to accurately capture the 3D state of an existing building. However, the typical laser-scan-based point cloud is in the hundreds of millions of 3D points, sometimes even going into the billions of points. With this additional data overhead on top of an already dense Building Information Model, it’s important to optimize your workstation hardware to deliver a productive user experience.
Finding the Bottleneck
Under the hood, Autodesk Revit utilizes the PCG point cloud engine to rapidly access the 3D points contained in point cloud and retrieve points to be displayed in the current Revit View. Since the typical point cloud dataset is so large, a workstation’s RAM is insufficient to be used as the means for access by the PCG engine in Revit. Instead, the disk drive is used for access, while a small amount of System RAM and Video RAM is used for the current Revit View. Thus, the hard drive is commonly the limiting factor for point cloud performance, rather than system RAM, CPU, or GPU.
Learn the Options
With data access a common limiting factor to the performance of the Revit point cloud experience, let’s discuss the options available to deliver the best experience. There are two primary types that are found today: spinning platter and solid-state drives.
- Spinning platter drives are the traditional hard drive technology, and are found in most computers today, as they deliver the best balance of storage capacity, read/write access speed, and cost.
- Solid-state drives (SSDs) are relatively new technology, contain no moving parts, and are generally much faster at reading and writing data than typical spinning platter drives.
In a structured comparison completed by the Revit product team, we found the following results when comparing typical versions of these Disk Drive types:
Reap the Benefits
Based upon this investigation, we would highly recommend that those looking to optimize their Revit workstations for point cloud use install an SSD for at least the local storage of the point cloud data. While you will also achieve additional benefits from running the entire OS on your SSD, a significant performance boost can be achieved through the retrofit of a ~$200 SSD to an existing workstation.
Author: Kyle Bernhardt, Product Line Manager, Autodesk Building Design Suite
Editor’s Note: Q&A with CADspeed answers CAD hardware questions from our readers.
I am the CAD manager for a design group of eight. We are looking into upgrading our computers to be able to accommodate our 3D modeling needs. We primarily use AutoCAD and CADWorx for piping and vessel design. We do not use surfaces or rendering. My question is, what CPU/GPU combination should I be looking into for high performance orbit/zoom/pan/refresh? Our price point is below $2000 and we would like to get a comparable laptop as well.
Answer from CADspeed Blogger, Alex Herrera:
In general, I’d start with a CPU and GPU of relatively equal footing (i.e. both entry class, both mid-range, etc.) Then, if a lot of time is spent navigating/viewing a static model in real time with good render quality, then you’ll want to look for a higher-end GPU. If more time is spent creating models or rendering with final-frame or publish quality, then focusing on a higher-end CPU would be more appropriate.
The incessant pace of progress and innovation for workstation technology never slows.
Less than a quarter after every major workstation OEM launched a full trio of models based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge-EP (a.k.a. Xeon E5), the industry leader in CPUs has already released its follow-on processor generation, code-named Ivy Bridge. And subsequently, we are now seeing the first Ivy Bridge workstations hitting the market, including Dell’s Precision T1650 and HP’s Z220.
How Does Ivy Bridge Affect the CAD Workstation Market?
What benefits can Ivy Bridge offer to those plying their trade in CAD? Well, there’s the usual broad-based boost in performance that any good generational upgrade will provide, as Intel expects a 20 percent performance improvement for general computation from Ivy Bridge (though of course mileage will vary by application). But there’s more appeal for this upcoming product family than just the usual generation-to-generation performance bump. Because while that appeal extends across applications and usage models, there are a few special nuggets of technology in this generation that will pique the interest of workstation-wielding CAD professionals.
Intel’s lead in silicon process manufacturing continues to grow, and the benefits of Ivy Bridge should prove an ideal vehicle to showcase that lead. Just as competitors are getting their 32 nm process, with Ivy Bridge Intel’s jumping a full generation ahead with a 22 nm process that allows for millions more transistors in the same silicon area.
That’s a win for workstation buyers especially, as they represent a professional community that certainly care about CPU performance, but demand a lot more. First off, a shrink buys room for more cores, and we’ll eventually see some Ivy Bridge SKUs with eight or more cores (not at first launch, but later in the product lifecycle). Far from being one-trick-ponies, today’s MCAD professionals have to be jacks-of-all-trades — a competitive market, tight budgets and tighter schedules all demand it. Drawing is just one piece of the daily workflow, complemented by a host of other critical compute tasks, from simulation to styling. And chores like finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics multi-thread quite well, making 50% more available cores a serious weapon in driving computation time down and achieving the ultimate goal — boosting productivity.
Improved Integrated Graphics
The extra silicon space also allowed Intel to dial up the performance and functionality of its integrated graphics hardware. For example, Ivy Bridge’s P4000 GPU populates more on-chip graphics engines and supports advanced features like hardware tessellation, a proven tool that can deliver finer, more realistic 3D surfaces in less time. With its range of upgrades, Ivy Bridge can claim full DirectX11 support that its predecessor could not. And with more of those bigger, faster graphics engines, Intel can claim a 30% increase in performance for Ivy Bridge’s graphics over Sandy Bridge’s. And that means CAD professionals on a budget can now more seriously consider choosing a low-cost CPU-integrated graphics solution like the P400.
Support for Three Monitors
But looking beyond performance, Ivy Bridge’s graphics is going to provide another big draw for the MCAD professional: native support for three monitors. While the mainstream is now just discovering the benefits of dual monitors, many mechanical designers are already using three: for example, one for drawing, one for simulation and one for visualization. Prior to Ivy Bridge, a desktop with three high-resolution monitors mandated at least one discrete add-in graphics card. But with this generation, a cost-conscious MCAD user could go three-wide and stick with base platform graphics.
MCAD Users: Same Performance, 50% Fewer Watts!
With more cores to speed CAD simulation and ultra-realistic rendering, as well as a 30 percent graphics improvement, Ivy Bridge promises to be a tide that raises all boats, as all workstations — deskside or mobile — will benefit. But there’s one unique advancement debuting in Ivy Bridge that’s a particular boon to the MCAD pro on the go. You see, Ivy Bridge’s 22 nm technology introduces a revolutionary new transistor structure called TriGate that offers the same performance at 50% fewer Watts than Sandy Bridge’s 32 nm.
And that’s allowing leading vendors HP, Lenovo, Dell and Fujitsu to introduce new mobile workstation models that dramatically extend battery life at the same performance level, or deliver far more performance, with the same battery life. Either way you look at it, it’s a win when computation demands are high. And few corners of the computing world demand more performance/Watt than mechanical designers trying to accomplish demanding design work on the road.
This post reflects industry analyst Alex Herrera’s views and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, product plans or strategy of either Dell or Intel.
Processors for CAD Hardware: Find the Balance Between Multiple Cores and Increased Single-Thread Performance
Several years ago processor vendors began backing away from a sole focus on cranking up clock frequencies and otherwise striving to squeeze every last possible bit of performance from single-thread processing. That path was heading down the road of diminishing returns and leading to other problems, most notably excessive power consumption and thermal output.
Growth of Multi-Core Processing
Single-thread performance hasn’t been forgotten, but the dominant thrust has shifted to parallel processing, with Intel moving from dual-core to quad-core and now hex-core processors. Factor in the dualsocket configurations available in mid-range and higher workstations, and today 12 processing cores in a single machine can easily be had.
What Does Multi-Core Processing Mean to the CAD Professional?
Multi-core approaches have proved to be a great way to gain theoretical speed-ups, but for CAD professionals who have practical computing demands, how well reality tracks theory depends on their application. Some CAD software programs, including AutoCAD and SolidWorks, do limited multitasking if multiple processors are available — for example, in managing the user interface and on-screen display. And rendering software, whether running on the CPU, GPU, or both, tends to use multiple processing cores.
Given this, most CAD pros will want to find the right balance of multiple cores and increased single-thread performance, the latter enabled by Intel through a combination of architectural improvements in its CPU design and its Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, which delivers an (often temporary) increase in CPU clock speed.
What Should You Buy?
Although an oversimplification, it’s generally fair to say that if CAD modeling chews up more hours than anything else in your day, you should allocate more of your workstation budget to buying a fast processor. If you spend most of your time rendering, you should invest more of the budget in more cores, or in many cases, a more powerful GPU if that’s what your application needs. Read on.
Where do you draw the line on how much of your budget to allocate to the CPU? Again, there’s no universal answer — sorry, there never is — but keep in mind that the upward climb on this (or nearly any) product spectrum follows a path of diminishing returns. So once you’ve decided whether to favor most cores or fastest cores, try to get a sense of where the “knee” is in the price curve. That is, where do you start paying a lot more to get a comparatively small return? That’s likely to be your sweet spot, tempered of course by the constraints in your overall budget.