MCAD Tech News (#322)

23 Feb, 2012 By: Cadalyst Staff

Setting a CAD Speed Record

Do you really need a better graphics card? Bill Fane test-drives SolidWorks performance before and after an NVIDIA Quadro upgrade.

By Bill Fane

When I set out to evaluate whether upgrading to the NVIDIA Quadro 2000 professional graphics card would significantly improve SolidWorks performance, I knew that I was also addressing a larger question: As an engineering and design software user, do you really need a professional graphics card? Or is it something like a motorcycle that goes 200 mph — an appealing but expensive luxury item, packed with more power than you need on a daily basis? The answer lies in the numbers (both performance and cost), but before we delve into all that, let's review a bit of history.

In the early days, PCs only generated text, not graphics. This was adequate for spreadsheets and memos, but didn't work all that well for CAD. Accordingly, a number of manufacturers developed graphics cards. In their earlier manifestations, these cards served as an interface between the software and the monitor. The software did all the graphics calculations using the computer's CPU.

Ah, yes, the good old days, when you would click on the name of a 7-MB, 2D drawing file — then go for lunch while it opened!

Over the years, however, several things happened. One was that CAD programs developed more and more 3D capabilities. In addition, operating systems and the application programs themselves began to consume more computer resources for background monitoring and other such tasks, and had to display ever-increasing numbers of icons, ribbon menus, and so on. CPU speeds also increased, but as you may have noticed, recently they leveled off at around 3 GHz.

The graphics card developers and CAD software companies have worked out a solution: Current engineering cards are actually a computer within a computer. They contain their own GPU (graphics processing unit) and RAM and support OpenGL and/or DirectX. The CAD program defines the basic 3D model and hands it off to the graphics card. The GPU then does the calculations to determine what should appear on screen as you pan, zoom, and rotate the model. GPU processing can include shading, rendering, and ray-tracing operations, thus leaving the main CPU free to handle other tasks. Read more »

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Bill Fane is a Cadalyst contributing editor, a registered professional engineer, and a close personal friend of Captain LearnCurve.


IMAGINiT Tricks Tutorial: Improve Autodesk Inventor Template Files

These simple changes can save you time when you start new part, assembly, and presentation files.

By Kevin Keene

In the last couple of releases of Inventor, Autodesk has included some settings that are often overlooked. In this article, I will show you how a few subtle changes can make a noticeable difference when working with parts, assemblies, and presentation files. Because drawing templates are much more company-specific (and such a big topic), I will not be covering them in this Tech Tip. I will address the Initial View Extents and Default BOM Structure settings, as well as the Automated Centerlines command.

Initial View Extents (for part and assembly files). Have you ever noticed that when you start a new part or assembly file, you are zoomed way in on the model? As you get ready to start drawing your geometry, one of the first things you always have to do is zoom out. By default, Autodesk sets the initial view extents (viewing area) to a width of just under 4" and a height of just under 2". This works well if you're designing really small components, but in most cases, your models will be bigger than that.

Starting with the 2011 release, Autodesk added an Initial View Extents setting, which you can adjust to alter the initial viewing area of your parts and assemblies. Depending on the average size of your parts, you may want to adjust the values from 4" x 2" to something like 24" x 18". This way, when you start adding your geometry, it will fit on the screen without having to zoom out. Read more »

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Kevin Keene is a senior applications expert for IMAGINiT Technologies.


Mark Your Calendar: MCAD Events


The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit: 7th Annual Metal Matters
February 29–March 2, 2012
Scottsdale, Arizona
This event will feature keynote addresses covering the vital role of manufacturing in the economy, new technology, and tactics to identify and target new markets and customers. Read more »

What's New in Aras EPLM for SolidWorks Enterprise PDM?
March 22, 2012
11 a.m. ET
Attendees can learn about the newest features and functionality in Aras EPLM for Solidworks during this product demonstration webinar. Read more »

March 27–29, 2012
Los Angeles, California
WESTEC 2012, organized by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, will feature nearly 400 manufacturing software providers showcasing the latest in machine tools, technologies, and manufacturing advancements. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on Are you hosting an event that you would like to include in our calendar? Submit details at least two weeks in advance to


What’s New at


CADspeed Blog Post:
Share Your FirePro Graphics Experience and Win an AMD FirePro V5900

Nothing gets us more excited at CADspeed than the idea of free hardware! Check out AMD’s Experience FirePro! Sweepstakes, running through February 27, 2012.Read more »

CADspeed Blog Post:
AutoCAD WS for Facilities Management, Part 4: Managing Your Move to AutoCAD WS

A look at AutoCAD WS from a management level, rather than an operational level. Read more »

Why Did You Hire Me?
How clearly a manager communicates a worker's responsibilities can affect everything from morale to company success. Read more »

IMAGINiT Technologies' Clarity Software Enhances BIM Collaboration
Autodesk Revit Server–based solution can provide dispersed teams and property owners with additional security, task automation, and reporting capabilities. Read more »

HP Z1 Breaks Out of the Workstation Mold
The industry's first 27" all-in-one workstation features pop-open access and a slew of options in a streamlined, space-saving package. Read more »

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

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