Direct CAD News & Views from Kubotek USA

Kubotek NVIDIA Graphics Card Shootout, Part 1

Posted by John McCullough on Fri, Oct 29, 2010

Graphics Overview

The hardware inside a PC which handles video display processing comes in two basic grades; integrated and dedicated. Integrated graphics is what you’ll find in 90% of PCs sold and should be adequate for your Mom. describe the imageThe integrated graphics chip comes built directly into the motherboard and borrows whatever memory the system will loan it.  If you are doing any 3D anything (gaming or modeling) you should have a dedicated Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) with a separate supply of Video RAM (VRAM) to avoid potential performance problems. Dedicated graphics for desktops and workstations is sold on expansion cards that plug into the motherboard. There are around a half dozen common manufacturers of graphics cards such as eVGA, BFG, Matrox, MSI, PNY, and XFX. Today, nearly all of these manufacturers buy the GPUs for their cards exclusively from NVIDIA or ATI (AMD) whose brand names tend to overshadow the card manufacturers.

NVIDIA calls itself the World Leader in Visual Computing Technologies. They evidently do have a large lead in market share for dedicated GPUs. They do over US $3 Billion in sales annually. I’m not an expert on hardware, but from what I’ve read there is every reason to be impressed with their history of consistent innovation in a competitive market. So when NVIDIA tells you that you need to spend an extra $600-$3,000 on your dedicated graphics because you are a professional user of 3D, you might not question that recommendation. If you look at the NVIDIA partner list for these professional level graphics, you’ll see many of the big name corporations in engineering and graphics software. ATI also has a professional-grade set of products at similar price premiums over their consumer-grade products. So the whole industry seems to agree that these professional-grade cards are necessary. What kind of people would dare question the accepted practices of the entire design industry? I think you know the type…

Trouble

For me, it all started very innocently. I actually wanted to learn about the differences between the consumer and professional grades of cards so that I could make clear recommendations to our customers about why they needed the professional cards. The trouble was that when I looked around, I noticed that no one ever makes a direct claim regarding the capabilities of these professional cards over the consumer ‘gaming’ cards. I realized it could just be that the marketing people at NVIDIA, ATI, and all of their manufacturers don’t understand the differences, so they can’t communicate it. So I dug just a little deeper.

The most knowledgeable sounding information I found said that the GPUs are actually the same between these product lines and that the differences lie in the firmware on the card. That seemed a bit hard to believe. It almost sounded like there was something sinister being hidden in those vague marketing claims. More digging uncovered benchmarks (written by publishing companies who are supported by NVIDIA advertising) which confirmed that MCAD software designed to work with Quadro (certified by NVIDIA) perform better with Quadro GPUs. But I found still more underground discussions and benchmarks showing that a ‘soft-mod’ (firmware change) can be applied to the GeForce cards so that it reports itself as a Quadro to the driver. This soft-mod significantly increased performance in tested MCAD software (typically Pro/E, SoildWorks, CATIA, etc.). Apparently the GPUs used between the consumer and professional product lines ARE the same, at least in some cases.

But this is not necessarily sinister. It seems there are special features designed into the shared GPUs which are not useful for gaming performance so they are turned off via firmware for the consumer market. Games are usually dealing with 100% shaded polygon data. CAD data often is or includes curves and lines. Turning on these features for the ‘professional’ card pulls resources from the main shaded polygon display calculations to process the curves and lines with special techniques optimal to those data types. This whole strategy is now over 10 years old and conceived at a time when OpenGL was king.

Testing KeyCreator

So, theoretically, the professional cards should out-perform the gaming cards when asked to handle 3D wireframe data. The only way to know for sure what performance each GPU would get with KeyCreator was to conduct an experiment with several of both types. Instead of a subjective feel for how well the display updated, I wanted to measure actual frame rates. Frames-per-second (fps) is a standard measure of how smoothly the display of a 3D model can be manipulated - higher frame rate indicate better performance. Frame rates above 25-30 are generally acceptable. Rates below 10 are painfully frustrating.

To make these tests mean as much as possible I eliminated as many variables as was practical. I started by purchasing a new workstation with a 900W power supply to conduct the tests on (double the Watts of a typical machine). The extra available power should eliminate potential problems with higher-end cards that demand significant power. Next I decided to stick to a single brand of GPU and card manufacturer. PNY manufactures popular NVIDIA-based cards in the consumer line (GeForce) and the professional line (Quadro) so that’s what I used. This choice also allowed use of one driver version across all tests. To keep costs of this experiment reasonable I picked four PNY cards to represent the two product lines.

During testing I discovered that frame rates almost always climbed 5-10% over several sequential repeats of the test. The results I recorded were the maximum frame rate observed. I also found that closing KeyCreator and restarting it typically boosted frame rate results by 3-10%. Once I figured that out I re-ran all tests with a fresh launch of KeyCreator. However these results may still contain some variation due to such factors and potential heating of hardware over time which I did not attempt to measure or control.

Results 1 - OpenGL

I began by testing each of these cards in KeyCreator 9.0.3 with Graphics Type setting on Hardware OpenGL. Test 1a used a complex 21 MB solid (53,000 facets) in shaded HLR render mode. To make the test a little more challenging the model was made 50% transparent (with 3 layer depth peel) for Test 1b.

GPU

Memory

Price Paid US $

Test 1a

Test 1b

GeForce GT 220

1 GB DDR2

$79.99

64 fps

29.5 fps

GeForce 9800 GT

1 GB GDDR3

$139.99

64 fps

61.9 fps

Quadro FX 580

512 MB GDDR3

$147.79

62 fps

53.5 fps

Quadro FX 3800

1 GB GDDR3

$819.99

62 fps

62 fps

In OpenGL frame rates max out around 60-65 fps which is a nice smooth display no one would complain about. In test 1a, none of the cards were challenged. Test 1b results show that performance with the lowest priced card does start to drop off. However, the more expensive Quadro cards did not provide improved frame rates in KeyCreator over the reasonably priced higher-end gaming card.

From here I decided to look for larger models that might show more performance difference between the two best of these four cards.

NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT and Quadro FX 1800

Model

Model Size

Contents

$800 Quadro

$150 GeForce

2

42 MB

1,595 solids

20

20

3

221 MB

50 spheres with 500 holes each

60.1

62.1

4

153 MB

149 solids

38.4

21.8

5

170 MB

10 solids (perforated sheet metal)

61.9

60.1

6

90 MB

1,256 solids

19.8

15

Frames-per-second performance of KeyCreator 9, OpenGL, Shaded HLR mode

Clearly a few of these models are taxing the abilities of these cards. This data shows that the Quadro FX 3800 performance basically tied the GeForce 9800 GT card with most of these challenging models. With one model (#4) out of six tested the Quadro card did clearly out-perform the GeForce card. That model (#4) was the only one in this set of tests which contained transparency (2 solids were 50% transparent), so my next test looked into that.

  Model

Model Size

Contents

$800 Quadro

$150 GeForce

1

21 MB

1 solid, 50% transparent

62

61.9

2

42 MB

1,595 solids, 1 solid with 50% transp.

9.9

6.6

4

153 MB

149 solids, 2 solids with 50% transp., cutting plane

32

22.9

Frames-per-second performance of KeyCreator 9, OpenGL, Shaded HLR mode with potions transparent

Neither card had any trouble adding transparency to model #1 which contains just one solid. This same test on model #2 demonstrates that calculating transparency display in relation to other non-transparent solids does present an additional challenge for both cards. The Quadro card handled the addition of transparency to model #2 better than the GeForce card but both dropped into a frame rate range I classify as poor performance. Trimming model #4 in half with a cutting plane hurt the performance of the Quadro but slightly improved the performance of the GeForce.

Theoretically, the Quadro is supposed to be handling wireframe data better than its GeForce sister. The next set of tests was done in Wireframe render mode to see if the extra features of the Quadro would kick in.  

Model

Size

Contents

$800 Quadro

$150 GeForce

2

42 MB

1,595 solids

40.8

30

3

221 MB

50 spheres with 500 holes each

62.1

49.3

4

153 MB

149 solids

60.1

30

5

170 MB

10 solids (perforated sheet metal)

61.9

61.9

6

90 MB

1,256 solids

30

20

Frames-per-second performance of KeyCreator 9, OpenGL, wireframe render mode

This set of results was the most conclusive of all OpenGL tests. Both cards had better frame rates on most of the models with the shaded facets removed from the display and only the wireframe edges shown. However, the performance of the Quadro card in this mode was 25-50% better than the GeForce card with most of the models tested. This makes perfect sense considering the theoretical advantages which the Quadro card should have with this data type.

Conclusion – OpenGL

The $800 Quadro card did out-perform its $150 GeForce sister in 9 of 15 OpenGL tests, most significantly when using wireframe display mode. This advantage may not matter since most users today are not using wireframe display mode frequently. Modern GPUs allow excellent to reasonable performance in shaded modes and models are usually far easier to visualize in shaded mode. In 4 tests the performance was tied and in 2 tests the GeForce out-performed the Quadro.

lightweight wireframe corolla

Wireframe is clearly lighter

I think these test conclusively say that the Quadro does deliver some benefit.  Is it $650 worth? If you are running OpenGL, frequently use wireframe render mode, and have a nice budget, OK. If it was my money I’d pick the GeForce and spend the $650 savings on an upgraded processor, 2 GB more RAM, and a liquid CPU cooler - so cool.

Next Week

The same set of tests was done in Direct3D mode. Next week I’ll report on the Direct3D results.

Topics: RAM, KeyCreator, Graphics, GPU, OpenGL, NVIDIA, Quadro, GeForce

Kubotek's Own Top Secret Project

Posted by John Agoglia on Fri, Oct 29, 2010

So, yesterday, we sat in the presentation of a competitor's much hyped project.  There was a lot of fan fare, but we were left wondering... are the really doing anything that's different?  Spicing up their cafeteria with some Creole fixings, I will admit, is decidedly unheard of for New England.  But, are they really changing and revolutionizing direct modeling?  All this thinking gave us a great idea!  What if we used our heads, coupled with some teamwork to come up with a great new technology?  We're still in the beginning stages, but we're working hard to make it stick.

 

Behold...

Topics: Direct Modeling, Announcements

Mummies more productive with Direct CAD over History Based CAD 3 to 1

Posted by Scott Sweeney on Fri, Oct 22, 2010

zombieRF123 resized 600

 

In the first ever study of its kind, Engineer Mummies all over the world were given a variety of History Based CAD programs and Direct CAD modelers and were closely observed and asked to give their feedback on which style of CAD was more productive, creative and intuitive for them to work with.  This study was conducted over the course of many years and was kept "mum" and under wraps until today!

The Mummies' activities where monitored to unravel the the facts: which CAD Software is king of the hill or I guess king of the pryamid, Direct or History Based?  This was done both quantitatively and qualitatively. First, they measured the Mummies keystrokes and mouse movement along with the time that they spent on the CAD software programs.  In addition, the CAD models that they created were also studied. Here's a video of a very creative car designed using Direct CAD software by a mummy: Coffin Car

These studies showed that the Mummies spent less time (and used less clicks) creating their models by a factor of 3 to 1.  Additionally, when the judges entered one crypt  several of the computers running the History Based CAD software were shown to still be “Regenerating” the CAD models after changes were made. Judges furthermore witnessed several keyboards and monitors being smashed to little bits that were running the History-based CAD as well.  One mummy was heard to describe the History based CAD as "decrepit" and another called it "rotten."

A panel of judges assembled to review the models that were created using both Direct and History-based CAD modeling found that the Direct CAD models were more creative and more thoroughly designed due to the fact that there were more iterations of the models.  The models were also found to be faster and cheaper to manufacture.

The Mummies were then interviewed about their experiences using both History Based and Direct CAD.  Here were some of their responses:

                “The Direct CAD just slew me man!  I loved it.  It made me feel so creative and Alive.”

                “History based CAD made me wait so long to rebuild models, I could almost die waiting for it, and then boom it crashed and burned!”

“I was able to design an entire new crypt in no time, giving me more time to go out and hit the links!”

Would you like to try some of this "Killer" CAD Software?  Here is a free trial of KeyCreator Direct CAD software . See for yourself if it isn't just "to die for."

Topics: 3D Direct Modeling, CAD Software, 3D CAD, Direct Modeling, Zombies CAD, Zombie CAD, History-based CAD

Wright Flight & Kubotek USA

Posted by Chelsea Gammon on Mon, Oct 04, 2010

This past Saturday morning, I took a beautiful autumnal drive (attention leaf-peepers: you are bottlenecking the Mass Pike) about 2 hours west to Westfield Massachusetts. My destination was Barnes Airport, home to the Massachusetts chapter of the Wright Flight program. This wonderful program's mission is to use the inherent motivational power of aviation as a stimulus for students to set and achieve higher goals in their educational and personal development. Wright Flight partners with local schools to give students the opportunity to learn about aviation careers through an extensive academic program and orientation flight.

This Saturday was an important day for the program's Aviation II class, consisting of 9 high school students who aspire to be pilots and engineers in the future.

Bill Coughlen and Don Nicoletti of Wright Flight approached Kubotek USA several months ago, asking if we could make a special presentation to the students on the importance of CAD in aviation and in the aircraft design process. I jumped at the chance to work with the students and constructed an informative yet dynamic and eye-catching PowerPoint for the kids. The cool pens, pencils and bowl of Hershey's chocolate items never hurts either... I included some video footage I personally took at this past summer's EAA AirVenture air show up in Oshkosh Wisconsin. After my presentation, I let the students play around in KeyCreator themselves, which I had on three laptops I brought with me.IMG 1853 resized 600

I have a soft spot for aircraft, air shows and airports because my father is a pilot. I am no stranger to the truly lovely smell of aircraft fuel and large components of homebuilts in my basement.

Despite the fact that attention spans of high school students certainly rival that of a fruit fly, I was very pleased to see that these guys (and one lovely young gal) were quite interested, their eyes glued to the screen. There were multiple questions asked throughout the morning, including how exactly a 3D printer works, how to turn the 'spaghetti' (several long cylindrical extrusions I made during a live KeyCreator demonstration for them) green, how to put purple spaghetti sauce on them, how to rotate individual models on the screen and how I got my job here at Kubotek USA in the first place. I was happy to admit that it had nothing to do with my skills in the pasta-cooking department, although I had in fact eaten Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner the night before.

describe the image

Ultimately, it was a success and I think the students' eyes were opened to the limitless possibilities inherent with CAD software and a future in engineering.

The maraschino cherry on top of the pumpkin cream cupcake for ME, though, was an invitation for a quick flight in an aerobatic Decathlon plane after the presentation. Bob Cipolli, an aerobatic pilot who works for Hamilton Sunstrand and is a volunteer for the Wright Flight program, had the Decathlon sitting around the back of Barnes Airport, nestled between a hangar and a few other aircraft. Across the runway, an F-15 jet was visible; Barnes is also a U.S. Air Force Base.

My bonus flight was great. This was my first experience in an aerobatic power plane, although I have had time in an aerobatic glider at Sterling Airport. After donning a parachute and running through some pre-flight tasks, we flew about 17 miles away from the airport, a requirement in order to do any aerobatic maneuvers. I requested Bob to put me under several G's, enough to get an adrenalin rush and very sparkly vision. Mission completed, we returned to Barnes and safely landed. Chelsea in Parachute resized 600

I am heavily considering returning for a follow up flight or two, to attack a few loops or rolls (though no stalls).

Topics: 3D Direct Modeling, 3D Direct CAD, KeyCreator Training, 3D Software, 3D CAD, 3D CAD Training, Easy CAD, 3D solid modeling