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Illustration: Rob Biddulph

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Tune your workstation for free

Just like a kettle, workstations get furred up over time. Regular closed. This can slow down your performance. There are many
maintenance can help them perform to their true potential. Here are ten workstation, as new applications things you can do to achieve this.
simple steps you can take to improve performance for free. Here’s the will then push some of their data First of all archive old projects,
disclaimer - proceed with caution and make sure all of your data is backed to a swap file on the hard disk, remove large files or duplicates
up before you start! which is a lot slower. Restarting and delete temporary internet
your workstation periodically can and CAD files. Many software

clear up these minor memory leaks, applications also install temp files
Uninstall unnecessary processes that run at startup before helping ensure you have all of your in the root of the C drive. Once the
applications the operating system is ready to be memory available. application is installed it won’t

The simplest, most used. Here’s the WARNING! Be need them. A good way to check
effective way to improve very careful what you turn off. For Defrag your you’ve deleted the right folder
performance is to uninstall example, if you take out ATI.ddl, on hard drive is not to empty the recycle bin
unnecessary applications as these restart your screen will not display! Defragmentation can be straight away. Run the application
take up memory and clog up startup Search the web for details of what a good way of increasing and if it all works OK you know it’s
sequences. Make sure you do this each process does. In Figure 1 the performance of mechanical safe to permanently delete.

in the correct way, through the Adobe PDF update utility has SATA hard drives. Hard disks are
Start > Settings > Control Panel > been switched off, which will save spinning platters with heads that Install the latest
Add/Remove Programs. resources every time the machine read/write the data. The disks spin graphics driver

boots up. at a constant rate so the outside Hardware drivers are

Turn off unwanted edge has more data read from / always important.
startup apps Reboot regularly written to per revolution than the Windows operating systems come
Some applications can’t When applications and inside. This difference can be as with a base set of drivers but you can
be uninstalled in the datasets load they can much as 20%. still benefit from ones that are more
traditional way. To overcome take up valuable memory If you use your workstation a lot up to date. For 3D applications,
this, click Start > Run and type resources. Over time this memory the files get spread over the disk graphics drivers, then chipset
MSCONFIG. Click the STARTUP can become full, as resources are with one part in the middle and drivers are the most important. The
tab and you will see all the not always freed up when things are one part at the end and this gets first place to visit is the certification
worse the more you delete and add page for your 3D application. These
Fig.1 automatic program updates, such as Adobe’s files. This decreases performance are updated periodically but the
PDF update utility, can be removed from startup
because the head needs to physically graphics card vendor might have a
move from one part of the disc to more recent one so you could visit
another and over a period of time their site as well.
your system starts to feel slower. Over the life of a professional
Defragmenting your hard drive on graphics card, updating to the latest
a regular basis can help with this as drivers can improve performance by
it moves all the files back together. up to 30%!

N.B. defragmentation will not
improve performance on modern Set to maximum
Solid State Drives (SSDs) as there performance
are no moving parts so they don’t By default, the power
suffer from the same problems. profile in Windows is set
Defragmenting a SSD could even to ‘balanced’, giving a combination
damage the drive. of performance and reduced

energy consumption. To set these to
Keep space free on maximum performance click Start
your hard disk > Settings > Control Panel > Power
Keeping your hard disks Options. Then click ‘show additional
half full can improve plans’ and set to ‘high performance’.

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Turn off encryption
and Compression
On NTFS disks you
can save space and
increase security by compressing
and encrypting files. However, for
maximum performance always
turn these off.

Windows 7 tips
There are a number
of specialist tips
for boosting performance in
Microsoft Windows 7. Here we
provide the key concepts, but
you’ll need to do some research to
find out exactly how to do them.

Prefetching is a Windows 7
Spring clean
performance feature that spots
your machine
trends in disk usage and then
Over time, a
the data that is accessed most
build up of
frequently is automatically read
dust can clog up fans, which are
into memory. The prefetcher can
used to cool CPUs and graphics
speed up booting, application
cards. This makes them less
launching, or both. It is configured
effective, and in some cases causes
by changing registry settings.
processors to slow down to stop
them overheating. Cleaning inside
Processor scheduling can tune
the machine can help this, but
Windows 7 so that it is
be very careful. Workstations are
optimized to run programs,
delicate and sensitive to static so
as opposed to background
this should be done by hand using
an anti-static cloth or compressed
air, not with a vacuum cleaner or
The Last Access
cleaning products!
Timestamp tells
you when a folder
or file was last
accessed. If you
have folders that
contain large numbers
Illustration: Rob Biddulph

of files (such as 3D CAD

parts) and you frequently
access those files, writing the Last
Access Time data can slow down
disk access. You can turn this off in
the registry.
Spend money on new components

Your workstation can be improved further by upgrading key components. In these instances the upgrade MEMORY (RAM) Requirements
As machines get older, compatible components come down in price, and budget is best spent on a faster CPU. for typical CAD MODELS

there are some great second hand bargains, so upgrading can be a very Practical tip #1 Make sure your
cost effective way of getting a lot out of a small budget. new graphics card is compatible
with your workstation. ‘AGP’

workstations will not support ‘PCI
Professional Unit (GPU) memory is also an Express’ graphics cards and the
graphics important factor when considering latest PCI Express 2.1 graphics ENGINE CHASSIS BODY
Upgrading to a new an upgrade. 128MB or 256MB is cards will not work to their true

# of components
graphics card can help common in some older generation potential in PCI Express 1.0

in assembly
boost 3D performance when models cards, but modern 3D applications, workstations.
increase in size and complexity. A particularly those that have Practical tip #2 Make sure you have 655 706 6625
replacement graphics card can also implemented Vertex Buffer Objects sufficient power (watts). High-end
help maintain full support with (VBOs), such as SolidWorks, CATIA, graphics card need an additional
new software. Older graphics cards Alias and Vero VISI, need more to feed direct from the Power Supply
can become out of date if they don’t run to their full potential. Unit (PSU) and some PSUs simply

support the latest APIs, such as A graphics card upgrade is not don’t output enough power for

OpenGL 4.1 and DirectX 11, which always the most cost-effective way high-end cards.
are used by modern 3D applications. to improve 3D performance. Some Practical tip #3 Make sure you have
7.5gb 10gb 23.5gb
Those that currently use a gaming workflows will respond better to enough room. Some workstation
card, such as AMD Radeon, may be a balanced investment in CPU and chassis don’t support full length or
missing out on features. For example, GPU, rather than throwing your double height cards.

RealView, the real time visualization entire budget at a high-end GPU.
engine in SolidWorks, is only With some 3D CAD applications CPU (Central Practical tip #1Make sure the CPU is
supported on professional graphics the CPU acts as the bottleneck, so Processing Unit) compatible with the socket on your
cards, such as AMD FirePro. no amount of additional graphics Those considering an motherboard.
The amount of Graphics Processing power will boost 3D performance. upgrade to a new CPU Practical tip #2Make sure you have
should concentrate on two main the correct heat sink and use a good
RENDERing TIME in relation to CPU CAD SOFTWARE performance in areas – GHz and CPU cores. quality thermal paste to ‘bond’ the
CORES (SMALLER IS BETTER) relation to CPU SPEED (Bigger is better)
All applications will benefit CPU to the motherboard.

from a CPU with a higher GHz so

this is a good way to boost general Memory (RAM)

performance. Increasing the Multi-application


amount of CPU cores will have a workflows and

major benefit for multi-threaded increasingly complex

processes such as rendering, but datasets mean workstations need


will also boost performance for more RAM than ever before. When a
certain CAD/CAM/CAE tasks and workstation runs out of memory, the

increase potential for multi-tasking. system can slow down completely


Four CPU cores is a good amount for due to hard drive caching. Here,

mainstream CAD software. adding more memory can be a very


Investing in a faster CPU can also cost effective way of improving


benefit 3D graphics. Increasing performance, but make sure you


the GHz of the CPU will almost have a 64-bit operating system if you

always improve 3D performance. have more than 3GB.

Modern graphics drivers are also Practical tip #1 To check how

2 cpu 4 cpu 8 cpu 3.0 3.2 3.4 multi-threaded so can make use of much memory you are using press
cores cores cores ghz ghz ghz multiple CPU cores. CTRL, ALT, DELETE and click

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Sponsored by AMD FirePro professional graphics


performance or, for a more detailed

report, download a specialist
memory viewing application.
Practical tip #2 When you add
more memory, make sure it is
matched to existing RAM for best

There are many benefits
to upgrading a display.
Modern TFT displays
feature higher resolutions, more
vivid colors, a smaller footprint
and can help reduce eye strain.
Modern graphics cards can
support multiple displays, which

can either be used for individual
applications or positioned side by Storage
side for an extended desktop. There are two
Practical tip #1 Don’t throw out main reasons
your current display. Use it for a to upgrade a
complementary process, such as hard drive. 1) to increase
email or document management. performance 2) to increase
Practical tip #2 All graphics cards capacity.
support two displays, but AMD For performance, a popular
Eyefinity technology can support upgrade is to a modern Solid
three or more. State Drive (SSD). These

boast faster read/write access
Operating System than standard mechanical
One of the most platter drives, which means
compelling arguments operating system, applications
for upgrading operating and datasets will load quicker.
system (OS) is to get access to For increased capacity the
more memory. A 32-bit OS, such latest mechanical SATA drives
as Windows XP Professional, can hold terabytes of data and
can’t use more than 3GB, whereas prices are comparatively low.
a 64-bit OS, such as Windows 7 Practical tip #1 Make sure
Professional 64-bit can. your motherboard supports
Unlike Windows XP, Windows the relevant SATA standard
7 also provides full support (PCI cards can be added in
for current APIs, including to support newer standards).
Illustration: Rob Biddulph

Microsoft’s DirectX 11, which is Practical tip #2 Buy a SSD for

used by some modern 3D software. operating system, applications
Windows 7 can also improve and current datasets and use
performance in some applications, your existing SATA drive for
by enabling them to make better storage.
use of multiple CPU cores.
INVESTBuy a brand new workstation

Investing in a brand new workstation can deliver huge productivity relative performance of workstation hard OPERATING SYSTEM MODEL
benefits, enabling new workflows that simply are not possible with drives (Smaller is better) BOOR UP TIME LOADING TIME

aging hardware. But where do you spend your money? We look at

the key components and what they all mean. 6:00

Graphics large scenes with lots of textures.
Professional graphics When buying a workstation it is 4:30
cards, such as AMD important to find a good balance 4:00
FirePro, are a good choice between CPU and graphics card. A 3:30
for designers and engineers as they high-end graphics card will not be 3:00
are tested, optimized and certified able to harness its true performance
to work with all the leading if matched with an entry-level CPU.
CAD/CAM/CAE applications In some cases, spending more 2:00
For most CAD/CAM/CAE money on a CPU with a high GHz 1:30
software an entry-level or mid- can be the most cost-effective way of 1:00
range card with 1GB or more of boosting 3D performance. 0:30

memory is a good choice, though
some applications, such as Dassault Central Processing
Systèmes CATIA, will benefit from Unit (CPU) SATA-2 SSD SAS
more powerful cards. Modern CPUs comprise
For design visualization software, multiple processors larger number of cores, you will low cost. They feature read/write
such as Autodesk 3ds Max Design, a (cores). When there was only one need to use specialist software heads that move across rotating
high-end graphics card with lots of core per chip you had the choice for rendering or simulation. platters. A common rotation speed
memory should boost performance, of a single or dual processor While rendering software works is 7,200RPM.
particularly when working with workstation. Now things are incredibly efficiently with eight SSDs are an increasingly popular
measured in single or dual sockets or twelve cores, the benefits for choice for workstations. Read/write
Graphics processing Unit (GPU) MEMORY and the number of cores per socket. simulation software often diminish speeds are faster than SATA, which
Requirements for typical CAD MODELS
On a single socket workstation above two or four cores. However, means datasets can be opened and
four cores are common, but two, multi core workstations can be put saved much quicker. Operating
six or even eight core processors to good use when solving multiple systems and applications will also
are also available. On a dual socket simulations at the same time. load quicker. The downside of SSDs

workstation the amount of cores is What is best for your needs? If is that the cost per MB is still high.
doubled. you don’t do that much rendering As a result, a popular choice for
ENGINE CHASSIS BODY In general the speed of the CPU or simulation or have a dedicated workstations is to use an SSD for
is more important for performance render farm/compute server, operating system, applications and
# of components

in 3D software than the number of then a fast single socket quad core current datasets and a SATA drive
in assembly

cores. This is measured in GHz. Most workstation will be a good choice. for storage.
655 706 6625

3D software needs two cores as a SAS drives offer excellent read/
minimum, as one core looks after the Storage write performance. Like SATA
memory allocation while the other There are three main drives they feature read/write
takes care of interface/modelling. types of hard drives heads that move across rotating
Certain elements of 3D software, in workstations today. platters, but rotation speeds are

such as assembly loading or drawing SATA (Serial ATA), SSD (Solid typically from 10,000RPM to

370mb 1gb 1.2gb production, can also take advantage State Drive) and SAS (Serial 15,000RPM. As the cost per GB is
of multiple CPU cores as can drivers Attached SCSI). also high, a combination of SAS
for modern graphics cards. SATA drives are the most popular (for performance) and SATA (for
Today, in order to benefit from a as they offer large capacities at a storage) is also typical.

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Sponsored by AMD FirePro professional graphics

Illustration: Rob Biddulph

Disks can also be combined in
multiple ways with a hardware
solution called RAID. This comes
in many forms but the differences
in performance and reliability can
have a big impact if you don’t select
the correct options.
RAID 0 is where you take two
disks and stripe the data across
both. You get better performance
than a single drive, the full capacity
of both drives, but if one drive fails
you lose all your data.
RAID 1 is where the drives are
mirrored. If one drive fails your data
is backed up on the other, but you
only get the capacity of one drive.
RAID 5 is a combination of 0 and
1 and data is spread over multiple
drives. It’s fast but expensive as
it needs four physical drives, for
only one third of the capacity of the
drives added together.

Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7
64-bit now comes as

standard on all new
CAD/CAM/CAE workstations. Memory
However firms that are on older Memory requirements are growing in CAD/CAM/
operating systems, such as CAE workstations and 8GB is now considered ‘entry-
Windows XP, need to plan for the level’ with 16GB or more often needed to run multiple
future. applications at the same time and load up complex datasets.
Windows 7 is able to handle Additional memory is required for compute intensive
multi-tasking more efficiently, operations such as simulation, rendering, CAM and drawing
which better supports advanced production.
engineering workflows. Reduced To address more than 3GB of memory a 64-bit operating system
support for CAD/CAM/CAE is mandatory. To improve system stability Error Code Checking
software and workstation (ECC) is often recommended and this is standard in high-end
hardware on Windows XP workstations. Non-ECC memory is more common in entry-level
make an even stronger case machines.
for standardizing on a modern When buying a new workstation it is good practice to ensure
operating system. It is also there are spare DIMM slots reserved for future upgrades.
important to note that some However, don’t break the bank doing this by having to buy
new hardware, including AMD expensive high capacity modules. The price of memory always
Eyefinity multi-monitor graphics comes down over time, so in the long run it could be more cost
cards, is not supported on effective to replace the entire memory in the workstation.
Windows XP.
Sponsored by AMD FirePro professional graphics


Match a workstation to a specific workflow

The hardware requirements for design visualization

software are very different to those for 3D CAD. Here are
some guidelines to help you choose the most appropriate
workstation for the software that dominates your workflow.

I use 3D CAD software. A single processor with four CPU cores
and a high GHz, an entry-level to mid-
what spec workstation range professional graphics card, a SSD
or SATA drive, 8GB to 24GB RAM and
Is best for me? Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.

2 I use design visualization Two processors with six CPU cores and
a medium to high GHz, a mid-range to
software. what spec high-end professional graphics card, a
SSD and SATA drive, 16GB RAM or more
workstation Is best for me? and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.

Two processors with four or six CPU
I use simulation software. cores and a medium to high GHz, an
entry-level to mid-range professional
what spec workstation graphics card, a SSD and SATA drive,
16GB RAM or more and Windows 7
Is best for me? Professional 64-bit.

I use manufacturing One or two processors with four CPU cores
and a medium to high GHz, an entry-level to
software. what spec mid-range professional graphics card, a SSD or
SATA drive, 8GB RAM or more and Windows 7
workstation Is best for me? Professional 64-bit.

SolidThinking 8.0 P32 Siemens NX 7.0 P40P36

SpaceClaim2009+ modo 401 P38

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