05 October 2016

progeCAD 2017 Graphics and GPU Review

Sydney, Australia 05 October 2016 - With the recently available progeCAD 17.0.8 service pack, the CADDIT team has revisited last year's review of CAD hardware. As stated in the update announcement on CADDIT.net, progeCAD is a low-cost general-purpose 2D/3D CAD system with very tight compatibility to recent versions of AutoCAD. Since the landmark progeCAD 2013 release several years ago, our development team has been spending considerable effort to improve our use of OpenGL hardware acceleration commonly employed by CAD software  like AutoCAD and Geomagic. OpenGL is essentially a machine language for sending commands like draw and shade directly (in a process sometimes called "direct rendering") to an OpenGL-speaking graphics card for display on the screen. These commands are often wrapped inside other languages like C++ for callable use by developers to tie into their software - like CAD, games, many video players and other highly-demanding graphics applications.

The inner workings of OpenGL per diagram from Wikipedia

This year we began introducing two significant hardware assets for graphics testing in our labs: Dell XPS Laptops (15 inch series) with Nvidia GTX 960M series GPU, now with a "game-ready" driver update version 372.90 (free update from NVidia.com).  I really like the XPS and have taken one for use myself. Other legacy systems tested are an HP Pavilion running Windows 7 on a Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2,4GHZ processor with Nvidia Quadro K1200 GPU and a new Asus with Intel i7-3770 @ 3.40 GHz Windows 10 PRO x64 / Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti (working at 1680x1050) - both with updated Nvidia v372 driver updates as well.

This year we again employed the FRAPS graphics utility for our performance analysis. Combined with results from the previous year, average speed on all systems all measured between 20 and 30 refresh frames per second (FPS) with the shaded ISS 3D test drawing, with the Dell XPS and HP Pavilion with the Quadro having slightly higher (smoother) graphics performance than the others. Results were similar when loaded with mid-sized 2D drawings roughly 12 - 14 megabytes in size, with the new progeCAD 2017 64 bit handling of larger files somewhat better than last year's version.

Early year observations of regular crashing on systems using Nvidia Quadro graphics seem to all but completely disappear with updated Quadro drivers from nvidia.com and installing the latest progeCAD update from caddit.net. We also notice the same improvement when updating the Intel business graphics drivers on systems like the Surface Pro 3. Unfortunately we were unable to make similar comparisons with legacy systems equipped with ATI 7470M Radeon graphics because the new ATI driver sent an incompatible signal voltage to the LED backlighting of the screen.  Based on last year's problems and comparatively poor performance of the ATI card, we really didn't feel like buying another one. We have heard remarks that OpenGL support on the ATI FireGL series is somewhat better, however.

In conclusion, we repeat last year's recommendation of intel CPU / NVidia graphics for progeCAD when possible. Using the latest progeCAD service pack (currently 17.0.8) and recent Nvidia device drivers is highly recommended for best results, although users should double check any possible incompatibility that newer drivers might have with their own hardware.

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