Sunday, December 20, 2015

Graphics Cards and CAD: Intel, GeForce, and Quadro

Intel, GeForce, Quadro - Oh My

Recently on a CADCAM forum, the question came up regarding using consumer level "gaming" graphics cards versus professional level cards. I've used a mixture of both for the last decade, so I thought it might be fun to write the latest blog on that topic. 

Basically, my work computers have had professional level cards, while my personal computer has had the lower cost "gaming" cards. Lately, it's harder to say gaming cards are that much less expensive, as the prices have increased and the fastest ones often cost more than an entry level laptop. 

The goal of this is not to do complex benchmarks. There are plenty of sites online that benchmark hardware. I want to answer the question, "Can you use consumer level graphics GPU's for CAD CAM?"

Personal Opinion, and this is just opinion, for most CAD/CAM uses, a fast consumer graphics card solution will work just as well as a professional level graphics card. This applies mostly to manufacturing, and not necessarily the actual design process, like what an automotive stylist would use. 

If you want to quantify some of the differences with a real basic test, read on: 

I tested my current Dell M6800 which has an Intel i7 - 4910mq processor and Nvidia Quadro K4100M professional level graphics, and it also has an integrated Intel 4600 graphics solution. 

The second system is a desktop with an Intel i7-4790K processor and Asus Strix GTX970 videocard which uses the nVidia 970 series of gpu's. 

The second system does have a faster CPU, so this is not a completely true apples to apples comparison, but hopefully the data will be helpful to you regardless.

The Test: 
I used a part with 1,952 faces, and is the physical size of two car doors, as shown below. We used the FRAPS app to measure frames per second (FPS) of dynamic rotations. We did the tests with Fusion 360, which allows for shading, rendering and ray tracing (as I ray traced the closer door in a metallic green paint).

When running the Intel 4600 integrated graphics, Fusion does show a message about checking the graphics card, and that performance could be affected. Below are the screen shots of the graphic card information from Fusion. 

Intel, GTX970 and Quadro

How did the graphics cards do with dynamic rotations of the doors? 

Intel 4600 - 15 FPS  for the shaded image and 15 FPS for the live rendering.
Quadro K4100M - 27 FPS for the shaded image and 21 FPS for the rendering.
GeForce GTX 970 - 38 FPS for the shaded part and 28 FPS for the live rendering.

Now it is probable the faster i7 processor helped out the GTX970 also, but the take away is that the consumer level cards perform competitively, comparable, if not faster, than the more expensive professional level cards. Both the the professional and gaming cards are better solutions than the integrated Intel graphics. 

All tests were run at HD 1920x1080 resolution. The addition of a second monitor did not affect the performance of any of the graphics cards in this quick test, they had the same frame rate as with a single monitor.

One thing I am unable to test, unless Asus wants to send me a second graphics card to test, is SLI mode. SLI, Scan Line Interface,  is where you add two (or three) video cards to your computer and connect them to each other. Each card renders one portion of your screen, and is popular for gamers with a healthy hardware budget. There is little information about using SLI in a CAD environment, but the general consensus is that it is not supported. 

Image quality:

In my personal opinion, the image quality was pretty close, among all three graphics options. I have a few screen shots below. One image has a rendering (not ray tracing) of a metallic green paint, the other is a smooth green paint.

Intel 4600:

Quadro K4100M:

GeForce GTX970:


If you are using a CAD CAM system that is picky about your graphics card, than you should probably use their recommended and tested graphics solutions. For many CAD CAM products, you can use a consumer level card as well as a professional card. Keep your drivers updated and enjoy. Comparing OpenGL vs DirectX is beyond the scope of what I wanted to accomplish, just as an FYI, Fusion uses DirectX, which is probably why it's not too picky about your graphics card choice. 


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