Select the Appropriate GPU for Your CAD Workflow — and Your Budget, Part 223 Jul, 2014 By: Alex Herrera
Understand how power consumption, support for multiple monitors, and other factors can impact your choice.
GPU memory size and bandwidth. Depending on the benchmark and where your particular system's bottlenecks are, the size and bandwidth of your GPU's local memory may not be reflected in benchmark results. Still, big and fast memories are advantageous. And for professionals engaging in large-dataset applications — such as oil and gas exploration, raytracing, and scientific research — big memory footprints operating at high bandwidth can make or break performance throughput, regardless of whether a particular benchmark's results indicate as much.
Power consumption. Getting maximum performance out of minimum watts is desirable on many levels. More GPU watts will mean higher electric bills — to drive not only the GPU itself, but also the fans that cool the GPU, and the office space's air conditioning, which must compensate for all that extra heat being produced under the desk.
Then there's the issue of noise. More power means more heat produced; for actively cooled solutions, that also means more (and/or faster) fans to move the air and dissipate the heat. For a growing number of users, heat and noise considerations will help decide between two comparably priced and comparably performing GPU cards.
A Complete Enterprise-Caliber Ecosystem
Many IT managers don't even want to consider the merits of the hardware until they're convinced that an adequate, long-term infrastructure is in place to support the GPUs. After all, the benefits of increased performance and productivity won't mean anything if the solution is difficult to deploy, manage, and operate reliably for what could be an extended-duration installation.
In that context, consider a professional GPU product's lifespan, driver stability, and high-priority 24/7 support as base-level requirements. Because if that foundation isn't in place, the rest is pretty much moot. How reliable and stable are the vendor's and the product's drivers? Do you have faith in them on day one? What about day 365?
Capable and comprehensive IT management tools. Deploying, configuring, and maintaining a single workstation isn't particularly burdensome. But now consider ten, a hundred, or even a thousand workstation seats, some of which need to be configured similarly and some differently, but all updated synchronously.
It's no longer enough to have an IT professional manage one machine at a time locally. Does your support allow for monitoring GPUs and making driver updates remotely? On one, a subset, or all machines at once? One mistake or omission in procedure can mean a failure that leaves a user — or even an entire staff — idle for the day, so the need for a robust and effective means to manage a sea of systems is very real.
End-user tools to maximize productivity. Your new GPU will most likely be capable of running more screens of higher resolution than ever before. That promises to be a major boon to your productivity — provided, of course, your GPU is supported by a robust set of display and workspace management tools. You’ll need tools to manage multiple displays in various organizations, spanning toolbars, screen-space division, and virtual desktops. The hardware is only half the equation; the means to use it effectively is what ultimately delivers on that promise of productivity.
Having the Right Tools Matters
Professional users aren't necessarily experts on computing technology, and they shouldn't have to be. They're architects, builders, engineers, and product designers; that's what they compete on, and how they make their money. The ideal GPU for today's computing professional? One that's so reliable and optimally tuned for your application, that you forget it's even there. For that reason alone, the vast majority will want to select a professional-level GPU. Any modest premium on purchase price should be outweighed quickly by the long-term benefits in cost of ownership, not to mention peace of mind.
The right GPU will make a difference to your productivity, and ultimately, your bottom line. But there’s no need to stress over the decision. With these basic guidelines, you'll quickly hone in on the GPU that performs best in the context that matters most: yours.