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CADspeed -- Optimizing Hardware for CAD Software

How to Keep Your Workstation Graphics Card Updated, Part 1: Why Is It So Hard?

Posted by cadhardware

Aug 3, 2011 6:48:38 PM

I am always excited when AMD releases a new driver update. I've got a FirePro V8800 and with each update I typically I experience a hefty performance boost along with any bug fixes. My one frustration is that I only find out about this new release by reading about it on CAD news sites. That can often be weeks or months after the release. I kept wishing for some kind of automatic solution.

Auto-Updates are in My Browser Already

Automatic updates are one of the things I appreciate about Google Chrome. I don't have to do any checking if I have the latest version. The browser silently updates so I always have the latest features, performance enhancements, and security fixes. Nice!

When Auto-Updating is Not Good

While I appreciate auto-updating in Chrome, I don't want it other applications. Auto-updates in Firefox could break my many add-ons. Auto-updates in Adobe CS5 apps would seriously interrupt and delay my workflow. For my GIS client, I work behind a Firewall so any applications that try to automatically "call home" give errors. Every now and then, even in Chrome, auto-updates get annoying because I don't like being the guinea pig for only partially tested "beta" features. And when my system starts slowing down, the first thing I start searching out and disabling are uncontrolled background processes. So auto-updates are not always such a great thing.

There is a New Version of Your Graphics Card Driver. Would You Like to Update?

But what about auto-updates for my FirePro graphics card? Wouldn’t this solve my driver "currency" issue? My FirePro V8800 would just automatically update every time there was a performance update. Or at least that it would pop up a notification: "Hey there is a new version of your graphics card driver. Would you like to update now?"

ISV Certified Drivers for CAD

It sounded like a great idea until I started thinking about all of the consequences. Aside from the reasons I mentioned above, there is another more critical reason not to have auto updates. I regularly use several different CAD and DCC software, and I depend on drivers that are ISV certified for optimal performance and stability. The problem is that not every application that I use is certified for the same driver version. It depends on the ISV (and the specific FirePro or Quadro card). AutoCAD 2011 might be certified for driver v8.773, but my copy of ANSYS is only certified for v8.43. With scores of CAD/CAE/DCC ISVs and hundreds of possible application combinations that can be installed on any one workstation, it is not likely that each application will be certified for the latest or even the same version of FirePro V8800 driver.

So if my FirePro driver automatically updated like Chrome, I could potentially get screwed with different CAD/CAE applications no longer working perfectly. In reality, with AMD at least, the situation is not that dire. From my mid July 2011 check, about 85-90% or so of the latest ISV certified drivers are all for a common single driver (this is more true for the newest cards). But still there are variations, particularly if you use applications across domains (e.g., CAD vs. Visualization vs. CFD) or have an older graphics card.

So what should you do to ensure your graphics card updates will play nicely with your software applications? I'll cover that in my next post.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Topics: Workstations, Hardware, Graphics Card, GPU, Graphics Cards, AMD, Upgrade, CAD

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