MCAD Tech News (#364)12 Jun, 2014 By: Cadalyst Staff
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.
PTC Live Global 2014
June 15–18, 2014
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30th Annual Coordinate Metrology Systems Conference
July 21–25, 2014
North Charleston, South Carolina
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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 »
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