In part 1 of Hardware for the CAD Professional, we reviewed the basics of system requirements. In part 2, we defined some commonly used terms. Now let's look at processors in your hardware and how they can affect your workflow.
Processors, Cores and Background Processing
The heart of your system is the processor, and these days that processor might beat with more than one heart. While the headlong advance towards higher and higher processor clock speeds has waned somewhat, multi-core processors have become much more sophisticated. At the same time, more applications are supporting multi-threading, including the most capable design and visualization software packages. The move to 64-bit operating systems has been fueled by the ready accessibility of processors that will run such software and take advantage of its support for a larger memory model.
Watching an active graph of multiple cores in application is informative in that you can see tasks being assigned to and finished by each of the operative cores. Some applications, including AutoCAD, use some multitasking if multiple processors are available, but only in limited ways — for example in handling the interface and on-screen display. Visualization products such as Autodesk’s 3ds Max make more extensive use of multitasking and multicore processors. Often the cache size of the chip, bus speed, and dual vs. triple channel memory has a greater impact on performance than an application’s multitasking abilities — at least at present.
What Should I Buy?
Since multitasking and 64-bit operating systems have become the norm for CAD and Visualization software, it certainly makes sense to have one or more multi-core processors in any new system that you anticipate purchasing. When it’s time for me to purchase a new system, I tend to get whatever is the fastest and most capable processor available at the time of purchase. This ensures that I have a speedy system at present and that it won’t be obsolete for a longer period of time. As I see it, you can put in the money now and reap the benefits, rather than paying sooner when your system becomes too slow for the work you’re doing.
Before purchasing a new workstation, do your research on processors — what’s coming, when it’s expected, and what features and benefits does it bring. Also have a look at the socket it uses — will it allow upgrading processors in the future without having to purchase a new motherboard?
Author: Ron LaFon