When determining which kind of graphics card would be ideal for a particular computer system, one must consider for what purpose the system is to be used. There are two primary classifications of graphics cards: professional and consumer. The professional cards are optimized for productivity applications, while the consumer cards are optimized for recreation and entertainment purposes. Two of the most commonly sought after professional graphics cards are the NVIDIA Quadro and the AMD FirePro. Quadros come in several varieties, with a range that encompasses an astonishing array of different types. Each type has its own combination of possible factors, including speed, memory, power usage, and connector. AMD’s FirePro also represents a fairly large range of possibilities and options to enhance compatibility, however this company tends to have a rather small share of the overall graphics card market. Still, the FirePro is a powerful graphics card made to run efficiently with a reasonable power draw.
The main pros for professional graphics cards include excellent performance, especially for CAD programs and similar productivity software, products for mobile devices, continuing innovation, and specialized technology. Professional graphic cards also have stricter quality control and use better parts in manufacturing and are designed to run 24/7 at peak workload. Their software (drivers) have been tested/certified to work with professional applications while consumer grade has not.
Cons include a higher price, the need to examine the specifications carefully to be sure the correct one has been chosen for the machine into which it is to be installed, and the fact that some need additional cables or adapters that may or may not be included in the package.
Common consumer graphics cards include the NVIDIA GeForce and the AMD Radeon. NVIDIA’s GeForce has at least 13 series, each a bit better than the last. They also have options for mobile devices and smaller machines. These graphics cards are well known among gamers as an excellent option. The newest series, GTX, takes gaming to a new level with Maxwell architecture for acceleration, offering fast performance and the latest technology for gaming. AMD’s Radeon is geared for speed, immersion, and graphics that dazzle the eyes. Their processors are optimized for efficiency of power while delivering a visual experience that more than satisfies.
These consumer graphics cards’ upsides include the fact that they are specifically geared to gaming, allowing quick drawing for higher frame rates. They contribute to lower latency and better visuals. The downsides of these cards include the fact that, generally, they use quite a bit of power. They tend to heat up quickly and, without proper ventilation, can overheat. They are one of the largest components you may add to your computer, when upgrading.
When choosing a graphics card for a system, lean strongly toward a professional graphics card if the machine is to be used for CAD or other design-oriented software. Choose a consumer graphics card if the machine is intended for gaming.
Creating the perfect Performance Workstation that will do what you need it to do can be very difficult. To do this, you have to understand how the different hardware parts affect workstation performance for your specific work tasks. The key hardware choices you have to make are the CPU, graphics processing unit (GPU), RAM, and hard drive.
The processor choice is simply a decision between CPU frequency (speed) and number of cores. Typical performance workstations range from four to 36 CPU cores and up to 72 CPU threads. Generally, there are twice as many threads as cores and threads are ordered sequences of instructions that specify what the CPU should do. Speed is measured in GHz and typically fewer core count processors run at a faster frequency while higher core processors typically run at lower frequencies.
The creating and manipulating 3D object portion of applications like SolidWorks, 3ds Max, and Maya need higher frequency CPUs more than increased core count, whereas rendering and simulation applications want more cores for peak performance. Safely over clocked Intel processors can provide up to 25% more performance for modeling and design applications than the standard processors. Intel Xeon processor(s) have up to 36 cores and 72 threads and these processors are fantastic for rendering and simulations.
The GPU is responsible for creating the image you see on your LCD. The GPUs are responsible for setting up polygons and applying lighting, texture and color to a 3D image. Nvidia and AMD produce the professional grade graphics cards for these applications. They are designed to run 24/7 at peak workload without failure through their strict quality control and use of better manufacturing parts. They also have tested and certified intermediary software (drivers) that tell the graphics card to how to run flawlessly with the operating system and the application software that professionals use for the work.
Design & Modeling
The interactive portions of applications like SolidWorks, Revit, Maya, and 3ds Max don’t gain advantage from multiple GPUs and run fine with basic to mid-range NVIDIA Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics cards. The GPU holds frame rates up for smooth panning, zooming and rotating when creating and working 3D objects.
Simulation & Rendering
GPU rendering engines like V-Ray RT, Octane, and Iray and simulation applications like CATIA and ANSYS can use the GPU to work in the background rendering and simulating – working exponentially faster than the CPU in these applications. Buying higher-end GPUs and in many cases running multiple GPUs will increase performance and be well worth the money.
Large & High Resolution Display Screens
High resolution displays require high GPU memory that is only available on top end cards. Especially when running many monitor resolutions and 4K displays, multi-graphics cards are a good idea. Adding a second graphics card doesn’t double performance; typically you will see a 25-50% increase.
It is much better to have more memory than not enough but it is hard to tell how much is enough. More RAM allows you to multitask without getting bogged down. It is recommend to have at least 16GB of RAM to start with and much more for such jobs as: simulating large data sets, textures in 3D graphics, complex video editing, large scenes with lots of polygons, and complex part product design. A rule of thumb is having a 25% buffer of RAM usage while doing very intensive jobs.
Properly configuring the OS and data drives in each workstation and then using SSDs to increase data reading times and decrease seek times is very important. Sustained read time can be more than four to five times higher on an SSD. Seek times are also much faster; consequently the faster SSDs are rated nanoseconds instead of milliseconds like SATA drives. This increased speed can have noticeable impact on your daily project completion times. A 250GB SSD is recommended for the operating system and program installation and a SATA drive for storing data and work.
Game Enthusiasts understand that no other platform can match the quality and intensity of the game-play that you can get from a correctly configured Gaming Desktop. These Game Enthusiast Desktops are very specialized high-performance systems where choosing the right components really does matter. If you want to play the most current, intensive, and demanding games you will need to be sure you pick the correct processor, quantity of RAM, hard drive, and of course, GPU (graphics processing unit).
Today’s Gaming Desktop market has many choices. Such as: standard, overclocked and liquid-cooled CPUs, mid to high end graphic cards, multi-graphic card(s) choices for Crossfire and SLI, many different options for RAM, and mechanical HDDs & SSD drive choices. The following is some of the information you will need to correctly customize a good Gaming Desktop.
A solid starting point good Gaming Desktop is quad-core processor. Manipulating and creating 3D objects for the complex games of today requires high frequency CPUs. Systems that have safely overclocked processors can provide up to 25% more CPU frequency for games than standard CPUs. Liquid cooling systems can help to keep the CPU cool when the processor is stressed.
GPU / Graphics/Video Card
The GPU (graphics processing unit) is the processor on the graphics card. It creates the image you see on your LCD monitor. You want the GPU to be able to squeeze the highest number of frames per second out of your gaming system. Playing the most demanding games with the graphics set to the highest resolution and a high frame-rate, will require a high-performance graphics card. If you are running a single 1920 x 1080 monitor, buy the best single graphics card you can afford.
Large & High Resolution Display Screens (Monitor)
A high resolution display requires a lot of GPU memory and that is only available on top end cards. When running high monitor resolutions and 4K displays, multi-graphics cards are a good idea. While adding a second graphics card won’t double the performance; you will typically see a 25-50% increase. Multi-graphic card setups tend to consume a lot of power and can generate a lot of noise, but for those that want the biggest, badest gaming PC on the block, it will be well worth it.
RAM / System Memory
Having enough RAM is always important. It is better to have more memory than not enough. Sometimes it is difficult to determine how much is adequate. More RAM will allow you to do more multitasking without getting bogged down. We recommend at least 8GB of RAM as a minimum to start with and much more for demanding games. A good rule of thumb is having as least a 25% buffer of RAM usage while running very intensive games.
Hard Drives (HDD vs SSD)
The types of hard drive that are most commonly used are the disk based SATA HDD (hard disk drive) and the chip based SSD (solid state drive). By using SSDs you will have increased data read times and decreased seek times versus SATA HDD drives. Sustained read times can also be more than four to five times higher with an SSD as well, seek times are also much faster. Consequently you will see that SSDs, being faster, are rated in nanoseconds instead of milliseconds like SATA drives. Using SSD’s can cause system performance to increase dramatically. For good balance that utilizes the strengths of both technologies we recommended using at least a 250GB SSD is for the O/S and program installation and also 1TB to 3TB SATA mechanical drive for data storage. For extreme performance you should consider using a striped RAID; check out our RAID article for more information.