Graphics Cards for the Latest CAD Release
A good solid graphics card is a must for any professional SOLIDWORKS user. But what exactly does this mean, and how have the requirements for graphics cards changed going into SOLIDWORKS 2019? By following this quick guide, users should be able to make the best decision when it comes time to spec out a new graphics card (or an entire new system).
Many new SOLIDWORKS functions can be affected by graphics cards
SOLIDWORKS consistently makes outstanding improvements to its software, and some of these improvements can be dramatically affected by your graphics card. Way back in 2004, SOLIDWORKS added a great new feature called RealView Graphics (see Figure 1).
As shown in Figure 1, in 2004 only certain graphics cards officially supported the RealView display mode. If you didn’t have one of those cards, this display mode was not available.
Another example of a SOLIDWORKS enhancement affected by your graphics card came in the form of SOLIDWORKS Visualize. In 2016 SOLIDWORKS added the new Visualize rendering tool to its family of solutions (see Figure 2).
SOLIDWORKS Visualize enabled users to create stunningly realistic renderings of their SOLIDWORKS models. Yet only certain graphics cards could truly take advantage of the full potential of SOLIDWORKS Visualize. If you didn’t have one of those graphics cards, you missed out on some great functionality.
In SOLIDWORKS 2018 SP03, SOLIDWORKS Visualize was further improved by the addition of a tool called the AI DeNoiser (see Figure 3).
This tool enabled Visualize users to complete renders 10x faster when the option was turned on. Yet some users found that this option was not available to them, and the reason was because their graphics cards did not support the new AI DeNoiser technology.
In SOLIDWORKS 2019, another enhancement to performance based on graphics cards was added. With the 2019 software version, users can take advantage of the new Graphics Performance Pipeline (see Figure 4).
This new Graphics Performance Pipeline, or “enhanced graphics performance,” was added in 2019 and can improve your SOLIDWORKS performance due to a new way of processing graphical information. These results were outlined in a previous engineering.com article.
But again, only certain graphics cards will allow you to take advantage of this great new functionality.
So Which Card Should I Get?
So now, we get to the ever-important question: What graphics card should I get?
First, you want to take a look at the Graphics Card Certification section of www.SOLIDWORKS.com(see Figure 5).
The card you purchase for your upgrade to SOLIDWORKS 2019 should definitely be on this list, but we’re going to take things a little further in today’s article.
After specifying your desired card, you should ensure that it passes all levels of testing (see Figure 6).
Figure 6 shows that the selected graphics card “passed all tests.” The figure also shows that this card is certified for all RealView features, and is certified for Visualize GPU support. This is a great place to start, and any card you are considering should pass all these tests.
What Else Should I Consider?
The information covered in the previous section provides a great foundation when selecting a graphics card for SOLIDWORKS 2019, but what are some other things to consider? To answer this, you should first consider what is happening with some of these great new enhancements.
Visualize and NVIDIA CUDA Core Technology
SOLIDWORKS Visualize leverages the power of NVIDIA CUDA Core processing technology, and, generally speaking, a graphics card with a higher number of CUDA Cores will generate a high quality rendering in a shorter period of time. So, if you plan on using SOLIDWORKS Visualize, be sure to examine the specification for “CUDA Cores” (see Figure 7).
Figure 7compares the CUDA Cores of different GeForce graphics cards. Although GeForce cards are not supported for SOLIDWORKS, they are supported for Visualize. Since Visualize comes as a full stand-alone installation, many SOLIDWORKS users choose to install SOLIDOWRKS on one computer, and then configure a separate computer dedicated to generating high quality renderings using SOLIDWORKS Visualize and a GeForce card.
Visualize and the AI DeNoiser
When SOLIDWORKS added the new Visualize AI DeNoiser to its 2018-2019 product, users were excited to learn that they could not only generate the same high quality renderings they did in Visualize2017, but that they could also finish the renderings 10x faster using the new AI DeNoiser. This is an amazing enhancement, but users should be aware that only certain graphics cards can take advantage of this new tool.
Figure 8 shows the “NVIDIA GPU ROADMAP” of its GPU Architecture. When considering a new graphics card, it’s important to know the model number, as well as be aware of which architecture the card was built on. When SOLIDWORKS 2018 SP3 was released, the Visualize team announced that the new AI DeNoiser tool would only support cards that were built on the Kepler and newer architecture. Cards built on the Fermi architecture (and earlier) would not be able to take advantage of this great new functionality.
Generally, a simple Google search is sufficient to determine the architecture of a graphics card. For example, if I am considering purchasing a Quadro P2000, I can search for “Quadro P2000 architecture”.
After scanning the results, I may find a spec sheet that looks something like what is shown in Figure 9.
Since this is built on the newer Pascal architecture, I can be confident that I will be able to generate renderings in SOLIDWORKS Visualize using the new AI DeNoiser technology.
SOLIDWORKS 2019 “Enhanced Graphics Performance”
SOLIDWORKS 2019 introduces one of the greatest enhancements to large model productivity ever, with the addition of the new “enhanced graphics performance” option. This option can dramatically improve graphical performance by offering a new method of processing geometry on the GPU, rather than the CPU. Not only is this option faster, it’s also scalable, which means as you implement a better and more capable graphics card, the option will present even greater time savings.
But which graphics cards are capable of supporting this functionality? The answer to this question lies in the application programing interface known as “OpenGL.”
OpenGL is essentially a software interface that allows programmers to communicate with graphics cards. Over time, the OpenGL interface has been able to take advantage of advancements in graphics card technologies. This often results in the release of an updated version of OpenGL.
OpenGL 1.0 was released in June 1992, and OpenGL 4.5 (the most recent version) was released in July 2017 (see Figure 10).
When examining a graphics card, another specification to look for is “What version of OpenGL is supported on this card?” In order to take advantage of the great new SOLIDWORKS enhanced graphics performance, you must have a card that supports OpenGL 4.5 or later. If you have an older card that does not support OpenGL 4.5, this option will not be available to you in SOLIDWORKS 2019.
A Quick Note About Laptops
As you can tell, you may need to do some research to help ensure that the graphics card you’re considering can support all the great new functionality available in SOLIDWORKS. Before we wrap up this discussion, let’s take a moment to acknowledge laptops and their relationship to graphics cards. In most computer towers, the graphics card is modular, meaning it can be removed and replaced with an upgraded model. This is not typically the case with a laptop, as the circuitry for the graphics processer is typically fused to the mainboard in the computer as shown in Figure 11.
Since the graphics card in a laptop is not typically “upgradable,” you should take care when ordering a new laptop for SOLIDWORKS. I always advise my students to “future-proof” their purchase by choosing/upgrading to the best possible supported laptop graphics card for a SOLIDWORKS laptop.
When attempting to select a new graphics card for SOLIDWORKS, there are some things to consider (beyond the model number and the amount of onboard RAM). If you are planning on doing a lot of rendering, you should also be looking at the number of CUDA Cores and making sure that your card is built on the Kepler and newer architecture. If you want to take advantage of the great new enhanced graphics performance in SOLIDWORKS 2019, you should make sure you select a card that fully supports OpenGL 4.5 or later. Following this guide should help ensure that you get the right tool for the job, and that you can save time by taking advantage of the great new features available in SOLIDWORKS.
About the Author
Toby Schnaars is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert from Philadelphia, Pa. He has been working with SOLIDWORKS software since 1998 and has been providing training, technical support and tips and tricks since 2001.