Auto CAD Build

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Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:18 pm

I've built more computers than one can shake a stick at, and then some! But I've never built a machine especially purposed for Auto CAD and was curious if any engineers or architect or... weekend designers have some input regarding a build targeting this generally high end software and the hardware its married to.

I realize that CPU is important, multiple threads especially, so a Core I7 with HT is probably in order. (Will be comparing the I7-2600 to other options). I'm also going to need some quick storage... any word on SSD vs RAID setups in this case. I'd imagine that SSD would have it beat any day, but the old solution to this was to RAID some drives, something I consider a waste and less effective nowadays. LOTS OF RAM<<< (16gb probably). The question I had regarding this too was whether ECC ram is highly sought after for a build like this or really needed.

As for a video card, I'd imagine one of the FireGL or whatever AMD or Nvidia are calling their "Workstation" cards these days are also a must have, or is this another misconception regarding AutoCAD?
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 8:30 pm

Not a CAD user but I have experience installing it in a classroom setting. The biggest problem I've seen with it is hard drive speed, so I definitely recommend a SSD but it's also a huge program so I'd consider a 240GB drive the minimum size.
As for a video card, the nVidia Quadro series seems to be the best supported (at least their drivers seem to work the best for us) but check out the graphics hardware list before deciding on a card.
For memory and CPU, if this is going to be used in a professional setting with huge drawings, I would certainly go with a Xeon with ECC RAM.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 9:15 pm

I'll echo was Steel says for the most part. I use CAD daily. Currently using 2012 with SurvCADD 2012. I only use 2D (mapping and GIS) for the most part with an occasional 3D grid file. I would go with the Xeon and ECC Ram for mission critical use / serious scientific stuff but for run of the mill architectural or other 2D I wouldn't worry too much about it. I've never had any issues using desktop cpus and normal memory. The SSD would certainly be a nice change for me. RAID 1 of course to be safe... I also have to mention that AutoCAD is utter crap. I can't say for certain 2012 is as I just got it installed yesterday but from AutoDesk's track record it's a pretty safe bet that nothing has changed.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 10:14 pm

Autodesk has, in the last few years, transisitoned their products towards using Direct3D for hardware acceleration. This means hat, for the most part, you can get good graphical performance in AutoCAD with a consumer video card. More is better, of course, but most commercial architectural workstations I've used have fairly basic specs -- mid-range processors, a fairly basic discrete graphics card, and a bunch of cheap RAM. If you're ever going to try Revit, go for 16+ gigs; A Revit model is basically just a phenomenally inefficient database of building objects, and will oftentimes choke to death on large projects unless it's got at least 8 gigs to play with.

What other software are you planning to use? SketchUp likes a good graphics card, but in my experience it doesn't benefit from Quadro or FireGL cards in any way. Any particular rendering software in mind?
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 10:45 pm

I use autocad 2012 mechanical, regular and electrical daily, on my work workstation and at home on my personal pc.

My work workstation has a 3.3ghz dualcore wolfdale, and a radeon HD3450, XP, and 4GiB of ram, and reg hdd (that's dell optiplex for you), runs fine, never had an issue with it, However it takes about 1.5 minutes to boot and load autocad.

My home pc win7x64, 8GiB ram, amd 955BE (3.2 ghz), radeon hd6850, and Plextor M3S 256GB ssd, loads autocad in about 10 seconds.

You don't need much video power or cpu power for autocad, and if it's an older version you can find documentation that it is NOT optimized for more than 1 core.

Get an SSD, at least 240GB-256GB range. With my setup, windows 7 x64 pro, cad, and a few basic programs, I am chewing up about 53GB of space, and it's only 238.5 GB once formatted.

Next, cpu power doesn't really matter, a 3+ghz dual core would probably be better than a 2Ghz quad though. I have seen AMD Deneb's (955, 945) quads going for 95 bucks at etailers, or you can go i3 SB, or even a small i5 is way more then cad needs.

Video card at least 512MB ram, doesn't need to be overly powerful, the Nvidia quadro's and Ati fireGL are more geared to openGL and cad support, I think I seen an ati/amd v3800 for less than $200

So baiscally get a good SSD, then video card, then ram 8GB min, and CPU at the bottom of the price %

If it's a big budget you can go with workstation grade stuff like ecc ram and xeon's, however your customer may get irked getting crashes on an expensive machine like that due to autocad's software, IMO it's not worth the cost.
Although, a NAS or some type of server backup would be something to look into over xeons and ecc ram.

Hope that helps.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:13 pm

Just an observation with the recommendations so far, you guys might want to find out the complexity of the cad projects and what resolution he is planning on running before making a blanket recommendation.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:17 pm

I use CAD...sometimes (despite being sent to a comprehensive course to learn NX that probably cost a pretty penny), and actually, I would disagree with the need for an SSD depending on where you're loading files from. If it's all local, yes, a SSD will make a big difference, but whenever I load anything, it's coming off a server and through change control software, so storage performance wouldn't make the splash one would hope.

I think our machines skip desktop processors and go straight for Xenons with lots of RAM. You memory performance will make a big difference, since your active files will eat it up, so I would recommend as much as you can cram in there and something with good memory performance. Having a fast CPU might help, but again, it all comes down to memory and crunching VERY LARGE NUMBERS, so getting your RAM and CPU to talk efficiently will do a lot more than simply having a fast CPU or several cores.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:06 pm

Speaking as an occasional 2D-only AutoCAD 2010 user:

RAM, disk subsystem. RAM, disk subsystem. RAM, disk subsystem...

The rest of the system you can scale according to your actual project needs, but those two items will make or break the experience.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:41 pm

I had already planned on putting him on fast storage, so thanks for confirming that as vital guys. I also planned on packing it with no less than 16gb of RAM. And then using a SSD as long as they weren't a concern to use in this type of application, which it sounds like its not. So it sounds to me like a Xeon isnt needed and ECC is only a nicety that he isn't likely to notice.

This build is for an architect who is a 1 man show here in town. He is a bit of an older guy who has been designing buildings for well over 30 years. He is currently using a dell precision workstation that about 4-5 years old. I haven't had the chance to see what version of autocad (im assuming he using auto cad and not another brand). His current dell precision is sporting an old school raid and some of the drives are getting flaky. Instead of buying expensive drives for an old system, i suggested we move him into the realm of newer hardware/software.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:54 pm

Steel wrote:it's also a huge program so I'd consider a 240GB drive the minimum size


Are you kidding? I'm staring at my Autodesk program folder right now and the toal size is 3GB. That's small compared to modern games. Obviously like Deanjo said, you (the OP) haven't given us any information regarding usage. Are we talking about 2-D/Wireframe drawings or 3-D/Renderings?

If this is a personal computer, you'll need to consider file size of the drawings. In this case you're still better off getting a ~128GB SSD and having a hdd for lots of cheap storage. The largest AutoCAD 2-D drawing we have at my company is only 9MB, but 3-D drawings/renderings can get much bigger (I don't have an example file size for that). If he's already got a machine, have him right click his C:/Program Files folder/s to determine a rough target for the SSD size, and the rest you can just throw on the hdd.

I think memory and CPU have been covered well enough. Nvidia Quadro and AMD FirePro GPUs have drivers optimized for AutoCAD and such, but they also cost A LOT more than consumer GPUs. My personal opinion is that a decent ~$120 - $180 consumer GPU like an AMD 7770 will suffice for most common users. (2-D drawing requirements closer to $120, and small-mid sized 3-D drawings closer to $180) Maybe someone who REALLY NEEDS a professional class GPU can chime in regarding this.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 1:06 pm

DPete27 wrote:
Steel wrote:it's also a huge program so I'd consider a 240GB drive the minimum size


Are you kidding? I'm staring at my Autodesk program folder right now and the toal size is 3GB.

Well, since we're using it for education, we do load the majority of the Autodesk suite along with Solidworks and a handful of smaller CAM apps. The VM we use as a base image has less than 10GB free of an 80GB drive.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:47 pm

*DPete27* I did provide you with usage, about 4 minutes before your post ahah. Meaning you should have received a message when posting yours that another post was made while you were writing yours :P.

He is an architect, unsure whether does 3-D portions of it, but considering his old school background im going to say I doubt it, but ill check. I didnt really need to go into the sizes of drives as im well aware of what he will need, my only concern was performance related to CPU, GPU, RAM (ecc for example and whether ssd were a bad thing for some off the wall reason on a build like this.

I feel like you guys have provided me plenty enough info to determine the above, now i just need to figure out what video card to grab. Im leaning towards the higher mid range consumer cards now. My only other concern is that he obviously wants a large screen. He is currently using a 24 dell that has some HORRIBLE damage done to it from god knows what (going to figure that out here soon). Im thinking he would be well invested to buy a nice 27 inch IPS panel with a better than 1920x1080... display port id assume. Any thoughts on IPS for this sort of work or is this overkill considering its not graphical in the photography sense? I wouldnt go bigger due to the size of his desk and office, he wouldnt be able to get far enough away from it.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:09 pm

Welch wrote:*DPete27* I did provide you with usage, about 4 minutes before your post ahah. Meaning you should have received a message when posting yours that another post was made while you were writing yours


Yes, I got the notfication so I deleted some content I was going to post. (I was going to ask if it was a "personal" computer or if it was for a company, ie Network storage) Anyway, I don't see any reason for needing an all out IPS screen. You might look at an e-IPS like a Dell U2412M which sits roughly between TN and IPS in terms of color reproduction, but has all the viewing angle advantages of IPS.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Wed Jun 06, 2012 10:24 pm

If he's an architect, especially an older one doing smaller projects, I'd bet a month's salary that he uses AutoCAD in 2D mode exclusively, and produces nothing but black-and-white line drawings for an end product. I've seen AutoCAD used in 3D for architectural products twice, ever. Get him a decent budget graphics card so he can use hardware acceleration to smooth out the UI some, a nice big TN panel, and call it done. You probably don't even need to give him an SSD or a lot of RAM -- the sort of work a 1-man firm typically does won't stress his system enough for him to tell the difference versus 4 gigs of RAM and 5400RPM laptop drive. Trust me, I've been there and done that :)
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:33 am

Thrashdog wrote:I've seen AutoCAD used in 3D for architectural products twice, ever


Very true, Revit is all the rage these days for architects and its even entering the more progressive structural engineering firms as well. I agree with your prediction that he's probably doing 2D modeling in AutoCAD.

Specs for my work laptop running AutoCAD: (also used for structural analysis using SAP2000)
Intel i7-640M (2 cores, 4 threads, 2.8GHz base freq., 3.46GHz max turbo freq.)
8GB RAM
Nvidia NVS 3100M (weak)
160GB 5400rpm 2.5" hdd

My NVS 3100M has no AutoCAD specific optimized drivers from Nvidia and it feels like its a bit underpowered even for 2-D work at times. I do wish I had an SSD, but that's probably because I'm spoiled by my SSD at home.

I vote i3-2120 for $125 (2 cores, 4 threads, 3.3GHz), 120GB Agility 3 for $90 after MIR (it's just the cheapest option, the 120GB Vertex 3 is only $105 after MIR which is also the cheapest in its class), 1TB hard drive for $99, 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM for ~$45, and an AMD 7770 for $120 after MIR, then a PSU for $49 (you need something around 350W), and a case, motherboard and monitor of your choice. You're talking about somewhere in the $600-$650 range for the tower plus whatever the monitor ends up costing.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:00 am

Deanjo wrote:Just an observation with the recommendations so far, you guys might want to find out the complexity of the cad projects

This is important. I build the workstations for my architectural firm. For 2D Autocad it's usually the use of "hatch" patterns that bog a machine down. Beyond that you'd have to be working with something like a small university campus before you start bogging down on a 2D file. Of course, we don't use Autocad at all anymore; we use Revit, and thank gord.

Our typical spec:
i5 2500
16 GB RAM
120 GB SSD
Radeon 7750 or Geforce equivalent

8 GB is usually plenty of RAM, but with RAM costing what it does I just throw 16 in there. And sometimes that makes a difference with Revit.

I've had no problems with Radeons and even a very low end video card is usually quite sufficient unless you're using a 3D view with shading, shadows, and ambient occlusion (the latter stats getting heftier), even with dual 1920x1600 monitors. For what it's worth, I've noticed no difference at all between a Fire Pro V3800 1GB (400 stream processors) a Radeon 5770 (800 stream processors) and a 7750 (512 GCN processors). I mean NO difference. I don't have anything against Geforce cards either - something along the lines of a GTS 450 1GB should give you more horsepower than you need.

As for multi-threadedness, beyond two cores doesn't make much of a difference unless you're rendering. Other than rendering, you probably wouldn't notice any difference between an i3 2100 and an i5 2500. I'm not suggesting you cheap out, however, going high-spec often doesn't really add any performance either.

120 GB SSD is going to be plenty big, too. We usually have Autocad, 2-3 version of Revit, MS office, Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchup, and a few other things installed on the typical workstation. That will all actually fit on an 80 GB drive but it's a little tight, and the 160 GB drives are a little faster anyway and continue to get cheaper.

Edit: actually the W machine in my sig tells all, except my case is actually a Silverstone TJ08-e instead of that awful NSK 3840. I'm going to have to update that sig....
Last edited by flip-mode on Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:02 am

DPete27 wrote:I vote i3-2120 for $125 (2 cores, 4 threads, 3.3GHz), 120GB Agility 3 for $90 after MIR (it's just the cheapest option, the 120GB Vertex 3 is only $105 after MIR which is also the cheapest in its class),

I wouldn't vote for any OCZ SSD in a production machine, and certainly not the Agility or Vertex series, until we can be certain that they've finished flushing out the bugs. OCZ's cheap-and-first-to-market approach is fine for enthusiasts who might miss a couple days of WoW if the machine doesn't boot one morning, but there are better options for a business machine.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 12:14 pm

Good point, I get a little careless sometimes since I've had no problems with my 2 Vertex's and Force 3 for 6+ months. Sandforce 22xx based SSDs have been out for over a year now and based on what I've seen, the problems associated with it have been largely solved. A crucial m4, samsung 830, or Intel 520 may be more "reliable" options which is definetly a good idea since this "older" architect will assumedly not be able to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. But I would also like to point out that ALL ssd's regardless of the controller/manufacturer (yes, even Intel) have had problems. I don't feel comfortable with early adoption either, but I feel that at this point sandforce, marvell, samsung, intel SSDs are all rougly on the same playing field as far as reliability. (IMO) But by all means, pay $150 - $180 for a 120GB Intel 520 with "rock solid" reliability.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 1:03 pm

Monitor...........well I have dual monitors at work, one is a TN panel, and the other is an 8-bit PVA panel, the 8-bit pva panel is better for making out shadows and different shades of the same color a lot better than the TN panel is.

I agree that a 16:10 would be nice, a 30" 2560x1600 would be pretty nice, but is probably way overkill, a 24" would be fine, or if he is older, get him a 55" 1080p TV so he can look at a D size drawing at full scale :)

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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 2:22 pm

DPete27 wrote:Good point, I get a little careless sometimes since I've had no problems with my 2 Vertex's and Force 3 for 6+ months. Sandforce 22xx based SSDs have been out for over a year now and based on what I've seen, the problems associated with it have been largely solved. A crucial m4, samsung 830, or Intel 520 may be more "reliable" options which is definetly a good idea since this "older" architect will assumedly not be able to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. But I would also like to point out that ALL ssd's regardless of the controller/manufacturer (yes, even Intel) have had problems. I don't feel comfortable with early adoption either, but I feel that at this point sandforce, marvell, samsung, intel SSDs are all rougly on the same playing field as far as reliability. (IMO) But by all means, pay $150 - $180 for a 120GB Intel 520 with "rock solid" reliability.

Anecdotal evidence being what it is, I have 4 OCZ drives deployed for 2 or so years now and narry a problem with any of them. The Crucial M4 in my machine did suffer a strange firmware bug that cause system lockups at 5000 hours of on-time, but a firmware update fixed it. I have 3 Intel drives deployed and no problems with those or the OCZ drives.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 3:09 pm

The Vertex and the Agility series are both on their fourth major revision for good reasons that don't just include incremental improvements. A friend bought a "3"-series unit just after the SandForce firmware fiasco, verified it had shipped with the updated firmware, set it up on a hobby machine that gets occasional use...and it bricked within three weeks. I'm sure somebody, somewhere, has plugged in a shiny new M4 and had it catch fire or something, but it's not the kind of thing you hear about on a regular basis.

Nearly all SSD vendors have seen problems on at least one model line or controller (e.g. SandForce), but most of those have been minor or have been followed by an extended period of no serious problems at all. OCZ isn't there yet, in part because again -- first to market, low prices. Necessarily, the missing third edge of the triangle tends to be: high quality.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:13 pm

flip-mode wrote: Of course, we don't use Autocad at all anymore; we use Revit, and thank gord.


At the risk of wandering off topic... I adore/despise Revit. It's a godsend for documentation and a lot of the tools it provides are very slick. On the other hand, it's a massive resource hog and when you run across a task that it doesn't do well, you'll spend hours or days just trying to come up with a workaround -- for chrissakes, why can't I use a custom panel in a non-rectangular curtain-wall opening!?

Back on topic: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that an SSD is straight-up a waste of money for Welch's client, and of questionable value for most other architectural workstations -- all the heavy content is going to be coming in over the network anyway. Spend the money on good GigE switches instead! :)
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:41 pm

Thrashdog wrote:
flip-mode wrote: Of course, we don't use Autocad at all anymore; we use Revit, and thank gord.


At the risk of wandering off topic... I adore/despise Revit. It's a godsend for documentation and a lot of the tools it provides are very slick. On the other hand, it's a massive resource hog and when you run across a task that it doesn't do well, you'll spend hours or days just trying to come up with a workaround -- for chrissakes, why can't I use a custom panel in a non-rectangular curtain-wall opening!?

Back on topic: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that an SSD is straight-up a waste of money for Welch's client, and of questionable value for most other architectural workstations -- all the heavy content is going to be coming in over the network anyway. Spend the money on good GigE switches instead! :)


I would beg to differ, the program itself will be (usually) be on the workstation drive, and the saved files ideally on a gigE NAS or server.

Now my argument for an SSD, well assume he shuts down his PC every night, and booting takes 1.5 minutes (PC) and 1.5 min cad2012 (what it used to take on my WD black hdd, now after my ssd was installed, boot time dropped to 20 seconds and cad boots up in 10 seconds.
Which is 150 seconds per day less time, now say 5 days/week 50 weeks/yr (2 weeks for holidays) and that works out to 10.42 hrs/yr (not including and restarts or crashes, or OT days)
Now if his bill out rate is a paltry $80/hr then a 128GB ssd will pay for itself in about 2 months, which is a pretty good pay back period.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:04 am

Thrashdog wrote:why can't I use a custom panel in a non-rectangular curtain-wall opening!?
That's interesting. I've not run into that issue.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that an SSD is straight-up a waste of money for Welch's client, and of questionable value for most other architectural workstations -- all the heavy content is going to be coming in over the network anyway. Spend the money on good GigE switches instead! :)
I'd say that's a pretty thin limb you walked out on. :D SSDs are totally and completely worth it at this point. SSDs make a big difference on the machines in my office even though our NAS is the slowest possible storage device you've ever heard of (reads and writes max out at about 15 MB/s).
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Fri Jun 08, 2012 5:10 pm

LOL... sorry to skip ahead from reading the last few comments (I'll go back later... i promise). Why would you think that the majority of the information would be coming over the network??? All of his drawings and any of his data is local to his machine. I know for a fact that the SSD would be a huge upgrade performance wise, I was just curious before with the amount of read/writes if CAD work was in some way prone to killing a SSD as they are limited in the number of read/writes they can do. I'd imagine that some of the newer SSDs don't have this issue due to newer controllers and memory types.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:27 pm

Welch wrote:LOL... sorry to skip ahead from reading the last few comments (I'll go back later... i promise). Why would you think that the majority of the information would be coming over the network??? All of his drawings and any of his data is local to his machine. I know for a fact that the SSD would be a huge upgrade performance wise, I was just curious before with the amount of read/writes if CAD work was in some way prone to killing a SSD as they are limited in the number of read/writes they can do. I'd imagine that some of the newer SSDs don't have this issue due to newer controllers and memory types.


Well, I've been properly schooled by anotherengineer ( :) ), but I wasn't talking about your client in particular. The point was about architectural work in general because in most firms with more than two or three folks, project data is stored centrally and accessed over the network. In that case, SSDs are really only helping with first boot and program loading. (I had forgetten how god-awful sluggish AutoCAD has become over the last few years). Revit benefits a more because it maintains a local copy of the network file and synchronizes the two periodically, but that's likely not applicable to your client.

The only counterpoint I might put make to anotherengineer's argument is that architects are salaried, hardly ever bill by the hour, and have a habit of working until they drop dead of exhaustion. "Lost productivity" is a very nebulous concept to us. :) (So are diminishing returns, but that's a rant for another day.)


flip-mode wrote:
Thrashdog wrote:why can't I use a custom panel in a non-rectangular curtain-wall opening!?
That's interesting. I've not run into that issue.

I wasn't even aware of it until I was modeling an existing building last month with some odd angles in its glazing, and then I was suddenly and painfully aware of it.
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Re: Auto CAD Build

Postposted on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:53 pm

Welch wrote:LOL... sorry to skip ahead from reading the last few comments (I'll go back later... i promise). Why would you think that the majority of the information would be coming over the network??? All of his drawings and any of his data is local to his machine. I know for a fact that the SSD would be a huge upgrade performance wise, I was just curious before with the amount of read/writes if CAD work was in some way prone to killing a SSD as they are limited in the number of read/writes they can do. I'd imagine that some of the newer SSDs don't have this issue due to newer controllers and memory types.

Then a SSD would absolutely be beneficial :)

The point against it only revolves around people who work with networked data, like myself. I might only own one or two pieces in an assembly at a time, so everything else in the 10,000+ piece assembly must be accessed through the network. In that case, putting a SSD in my machine would be spending a lot of money, but I would still be waiting on the assembly to load.

All belongs to him? Let him fire everything up at lightning speed.
Being an adult doesn't mean you have to know what you're doing. It just means you have to look like you know what you're doing.
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