MCAD Tech News (#364)

11 Jun, 2014 By: Cadalyst Staff

Select the Appropriate GPU for Your CAD Workflow — and Your Budget, Part 1

The time you invest in choosing the right graphics processing unit will pay off in increased productivity.

By Alex Herrera

There's never been a better time to invest in a new workstation-caliber graphics processing unit (GPU). The industry is exploiting the raw capabilities in graphics silicon more effectively than ever before, while adding critical software and hardware design features to shape that technology into products suited to the needs of professional CAD users, at a wide range of prices.

That may be good news, but professional users want to get on with their projects and meet their deadlines, not spend a lot of time shopping for new hardware. And they definitely don't want to waste time in their jobs because they bought the wrong tools. Fortunately, there are useful resources and rules of thumb available to guide your selection process. But first, let's take a look at why you need a professional GPU in the first place.

The Value of a CAD-Specific GPU

It's past time to dispel the popular myth that high-end consumer-grade GPUs — often called gamer cards, because they're marketed to video-game aficionados — are just as useful for CAD applications as those made for professional uses. Yes, the two products draw off a common foundation of core hardware and software technology. But the similarities end there, because the professional GPU draws on that core base of technology differently, in order to reliably deliver the performance and accuracy necessary for professional-caliber applications.

Specifically engineered for professionals, workstation GPUs render quickly, reliably, and with the particular visual style that users of applications such as AutoCAD, 3ds Max, CATIA, and SolidWorks expect. Their hardware pipelines implement specialized graphics engines optimized for shaders and rasterizers used in engineering and visual effects, not games. Professional GPUs are typically outfitted with more memory than gaming-focused GPUs of similar raw performance, delivering better balance for designers and engineers dealing with large datasets.

And it's not just hardware that makes graphics different for professionals; it's the driver software as well. Optimal driver design takes into account which types of drawing are requested more commonly than others. It fast-tracks the common paths, and those paths are dramatically different for games than they are for a modeling application or stress-analysis tool. The end result? Professional drivers are slower to produce graphics for games, and game drivers are slower when used with CAD applications. Many workstation manufacturers, including HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, outfit their workstations exclusively with professional graphics cards, primarily from GPU vendors NVIDIA (which produces the Quadro and Tesla lines) and AMD (which makes the FirePro brand). Read more »

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Contributing editor Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

Mark Your Calendar: MCAD Events

PTC Live Global 2014
June 15–18, 2014
Boston, Massachusetts
PTC Live Global is a networking and training event for product development professionals using PTC solutions. Conference topics will include PTC Creo v3, the latest version of PTC's flagship design software. Read more »

30th Annual Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference
July 21–25, 2014
North Charleston, South Carolina
At this conference, expert and novice metrology professionals will convene to learn about the successful implementation and usage of measurement/inspection solutions. Technical presentations will cover successful applications, best practices, and research and development in the field of metrology. Read more »

Advanced Design and Manufacturing Impact Forum 2014
August 17–20, 2014
Buffalo, New York
This event will introduce a new ASME program focusing on the intersection of advanced design and advanced manufacturing in industrial and consumer applications. 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

Free E-Book: Engineering Survival Guide
What does the future hold for engineers? One thing we know for sure: It will change! A free 40-page e-book from Lifecycle Insights, Engineering Manager's Survival Guide, outlines the trends and technologies that are shaping engineering and what you can do to support your future in the field. To get it, simply complete this 15-minute survey on the use of 3D across the enterprise.

Project Kickoff Questionnaire
Make sure you cover all your bases before a project starts, and ask users to fill out this survey prior to your meeting. Read more »

Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Success
Establish ground rules and responsibilities before a project begins to minimize managerial challenges along the way. Read more »

Add Isolines for Easy Surface Creation and Editing in AutoCAD
Drawing on surfaces can be tricky, especially if the surface is curved. Extracting isolines from the surface makes it easier to accomplish this goal — join Lynn Allen as she shows you how! Watch the video »

By the Revit Users, for the Revit Users, Part 1
Now in its tenth year, the independent Revit Technology Conference serves three continents and is still growing — but cautiously. Read more »

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

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