A while ago the SolidWorks bloggers were asked if they would be interested in testing some of the new ATI FirePro graphics cards. I immediately jumped at the chance and as my good luck would have it I was somehow placed first on the list of testers. My test machine arrived about 10 days ago and I was able to give it a good workout for about a week.
A little background first. Over the last 8 years or so I’ve chosen to exclusively use Nvidea graphics cards in my systems because I believed they were the best choice. Over the last couple of years and more specifically with the use of SolidWorks 2008 and 2009 I’ve been having graphics issues with my workstations. I know I’m not alone because I’ve read many threads on various forums about others with the same graphics issues I’ve been experiencing. After trying different drivers (both approved and unapproved by SolidWorks) and suggestions made by others of possible solutions the issues still remain.
My current workstations are as follows.
- Dell 390 (desktop) , Q6600 2.4 Quad core CPU, Windows XP 32 with 3 gigs of RAM, Nvidea Quadro FX 3500 with 256 MB of RAM, about 2 years old.
- Dell M6300 (laptop), T7500 2.2 Duo-core CPU, Windows XP 32 with 2 gigs of RAM, Nvidea Quadro FX 1600M with 512 MB of RAM, about 1 year old.
- Dell 380 (desktop), Pentium D 3.0 CPU, Windows XP 32 with 2 gigs of RAM, Nvidea Quadro FX 1400 with 128 MB of RAM, about 4 years old.
- Xi (desktop) Core i-7 3.2 CPU, Windows Vista 64 with 12 gigs of RAM, Nvidea Quadro FX 3700 with 512 MB of RAM, about 5 months old.
The current graphics issues I experience. There are four issues that plague each of these systems. Some systems experience all the issues while others are only affected by one or two.
- My SolidWorks graphics area background turns to black. This is an issue I have with all four systems. This issue by itself really isn’t a huge problem since you only notice it when files are closed or minimized. It does signal a problem though and typically one of my other 3 issues appears shorty after this happens.
- The graphics area during a SolidWorks session will not refresh or will refresh intermittently. While working in a SolidWorks file the graphics area will not update to show changes of the model view (pan, rotate, zoom , etc). This of course is a very annoying issue. It can typically be resolved by minimizing and expanding the file window or selecting a defined model view (front, top, right, etc). When this happens graphics performance is noticeably slower and they only way to restore normal performance is to reboot. This issue affects all my systems but is most noticeable on the new Xi system
- Parts of the SolidWorks window simply disappear or are blacked out. While working in SolidWorks areas other than the graphics area such as toolbars, command manager, property manager, task pane, etc are not viewable. The icons for these items don’t show or are shown as black boxes. This can be very frustrating, also degrades over all graphics performance and can only be resolved by rebooting the machine. This issue affects the older Dell 380 the most.
- While working in an application an area of the screen will not refresh. This issue is not SolidWorks specific. Remnants of an icon tool tip or an area of a window that was opened and closed will remain on the screen covering all graphics below no matter the application. This is another very annoying issue and the only way to resolve it is a reboot. This is most prevalent on the Dell M6300 and the Dell 390.
The test card sent to me was an ATI FirePro V5700 with 512 MB of RAM. I’m not an expert on graphics cards or any other computer hardware. A listing of hardware specs means very little to me and while I do find benchmark tests useful in some cases I typically don’t hold much faith in those either. I’m really just interested in having my system perform correctly and reliably with as little input from me as possible. The model files I work on are either single parts or assemblies of less than 1000 parts. Occasionally I have larger assemblies but that isn’t the norm. I expect a mid range graphics card to meet my performance needs reasonably well and I expect to pay in the $500-$1000 range for the card. I would consider the ATI Firepro V5700 to be a mid range card and it’s price is about $600 so it fits into the typical frame work of a graphics card I would purchase. The test machine I received was an HP workstation with Windows XP 32 and 4 gigs of RAM. The test machine was preloaded with SolidWorks 2009 and very little other software. This was fine as I just wanted to test SolidWorks files. I copied a variety of Solidworks files from my network, loaded then onto the hard drive of the test machine and began working with them. I used the test machine for about a week in the same manner as I would any of my other workstations. I spent time, creating models, drawings, rendering, etc. The machine was left running (not turned off) for days at a time and I even set up some larger renderings to process overnight and would immediately begin using the system the next day without a reboot. The only difference in the way I used this system from the others was the lack of using other software such as Word, Corel, Outlook, etc. I’m happy to report the FirePro V5700 preformed flawlessly, not one glitch in the week I used it. No graphics lock ups, no parts of the screen refusing to refresh, no black background in the SolidWorks graphics area. Performance of the card was responsive and what I would have expected. It was really quite nice to “just have my graphics card work” for a change. Not a terribly scientific test but a good “real world” test for the work I do. Based on my week long experience with this graphics card I certainly would have no problem purchasing one for my own use or recommending it to someone else. If you’ve shyed away from ATI cards in the past as I have you might want to give them another look. It will be interesting to see what the other bloggers find in their testing.