Productivity gains are frequently used as incentive for the purchase of new hardware and/or software. New technology and new features can make a big difference in the user experience, but how big a difference? Is it enough to justify the purchase of a new workstation? Management wonders if they will see a return on their investment before the workstation needs replacing again.
Autodesk, HP, and NVIDIA sought to answer some of these questions. The trio contracted David Cohn, a widely acknowledged expert in the use of AutoCAD, to develop and conduct a series of tests utilizing common features and functions to compare AutoCAD 2008 and AutoCAD 2011 on HP xw4600 and HP Z200 Workstations with NVIDIA graphics cards. A battery of eight representative drawings as well as benchmarks were used to not only compare the different versions of the software on different workstations, but also on the same workstations. In this way, both the cumulative effect of upgraded software and hardware, as well as the individual improvements brought about by software upgrade or hardware upgrades, could be quantified. The results provide powerful information to help any AutoCAD user understand a realistic gain in productivity from upgrading their hardware or AutoCAD version.
The baseline was set using a HP xw4600 workstation running AutoCAD 2008. The result was nearly 13.5 hours to complete the eight drawings. By simply upgrading to AutoCAD 2011, the time was reduced by 31 percent to 9.25 hours. When the workstation was upgraded to an HP Z200 Workstation with an NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 graphics card, the time was further reduced to 7.5 hours, for a time savings of 45 percent. On individual tasks that focused on specific aspects of the software, the time required to produce the drawings went down anywhere from 25 to 94 percent.
The drawing tasks ranged from developing floor plans for buildings, site plans for building projects and 3D MCAD models. In only one case did the workstation upgrade make little difference in project completion. In most cases, upgrading to the HP Z200 Workstation yielded double-digit percentage improvements in user productivity.
Cohn attributes the majority of this hardware-based improvement to faster CPU performance and better graphics performance. These improvements yield faster panning, zooming, orbiting, and general manipulation of models, which, over the course of a typical work day, can save an hour or more of user productivity.
Cohn does point out that individual user experience will vary according to individual habits and practices as well as the type of work performed. The drawings selected for the experiments, as well the functions used, were chosen because they are fairly commonplace and representative of most AutoCAD user needs and practices. Therefore, Cohn is confident that most users will experience similar benefits in their real-world usage.
Additional benchmarks were also performed including the SPEC viewperf 10 Benchmark, CADalyst v5.3 Benchmark, and the AutoCAD Large Drawing Benchmark; all yielded consistently similar results.
So how fast can return on investment be achieved? It depends upon the type of AutoCAD activities the user undertakes. With improvements ranging from 17-94 percent, ROI can be achieved very quickly, possibly within the first year, easily justifying the cost of upgrading both software and hardware. So if you are considering upgrading from AutoCAD 2008 (or earlier) to AutoCAD 2011, you should consider upgrading to a new HP Z200 workstation as well to leverage the improved hardware performance to further improve productivity and competitiveness.
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