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Thread: Revit Hardware : General

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    Forum Co-Founder iru69's Avatar
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    Revit Hardware : General

    Revised: 5/18/2014

    I've attempted to write this series of posts in a way that will be accessible to everyone. It may seem a little boring and geeky, but you'll be better prepared in making purchasing decisions, or when asking questions or for advice. Also please note that the recommendations given here for specific products are not exclusive - there are too many usage scenarios to cover every option.


    OPERATING SYSTEMS

    If you're getting a new computer, you'll need Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 64-bit. Revit 2014 and later is officially supported only on Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. Revit 2015 is 64-bit only. As far as I've heard, Revit 2014 should still work fine on Vista and XP... I haven't heard anything about 2015 yet. Revit 2013 (with the latest updates) should also work on all of those versions of Windows.

    There’s a "Pro" (or Enterprise or Ultimate) and a standard (or "Home") version for Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP. There are no speed or stability differences between the editions. Unless you work at home or a small office, and are sure you don't need any of the features of Pro mentioned below, it's best to get Windows Pro. There are three main advantages of Pro:

    1. It allows for "domain" log-ins, which is often used in office network environments.
    2. If you need to log into your computer with Remote Desktop, the "host" computer you're logging into needs to be running Pro.
    3. Pro versions support more RAM, though Windows 8 makes this a non-issue:
    Windows 8 (64-bit): 128 GB
    Windows 8 Pro (64-bit): 512 GB
    Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit): 16 GB
    Windows 7 Professional (64-bit): 192 GB


    Note: There's been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Windows 8's user interface changes. It is unarguably the most significant change to the Windows UI in twenty years. I'm not going to wade into the ensuing controversy in this post - there is plenty of information available on the web - I'll only say that, as someone who was very unhappy with the initial W8 release, I find W8.1 with the latest updates to be very usable though annoyances remain... YMMV. Suffice it to say, Revit runs exactly the same on W8 as it does on any other version of Windows, and by most accounts, W8 is the fastest and most stable version of Windows yet. Most PCs are now shipping with W8.1 as a default (and W8.1 is a free update from W8 if you have that). If you are purchasing a new system that is only available with Windows 8/8.1, but you'd rather use Windows 7, there are two possibilities. First, contact the manufacturer or supplier about any available options to "downgrade" to W7 for free. Second, you can still purchase an OEM version of W7 through retail channels and install it yourself.

    Bottom Line
    Get Windows 8.1 Pro or 7 Pro 64-bit (W8.1 strongly encouraged for systems with a 4K or HiDPI display - see below)

    CPU

    See this post!


    RAM (MEMORY)

    See this post!


    VIDEO GRAPHIC CARDS

    See this post!


    DISPLAY MONITOR

    The minimal supported display resolution is 1280x1024 - anything less than that (at least in the horizontal direction) and the Ribbon UI will not completely fit on the screen.

    The higher the resolution, the more drawing area you'll have, the better the user experience. Many laptop displays have relatively low resolutions, but this is quickly changing with the advent of 4K/HDPI displays. Revit will still run fine, but low resolutions will make it more challenging to see much of your actual drawings, while high resolution displays can result in very small text and icons.

    While certainly not required for Revit use, having more than one display can offer a productivity boost. Revit has limited multi-display support at this time. You can drag some tool palettes and dialogs out of the Revit application window and onto another display, but you can’t drag drawing views outside of the Revit application window. However, you can stretch your Revit application window across multiple displays, but you'll want to make sure your displays are the same size and resolution for optimal layout.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that many displays have “glossy” screens. This is especially difficult to get away from in laptops. While sometimes not as much of an issue with smaller screen laptops, with large external displays, the glossiness can create a lot of reflections that can make it challenging to use in direct light. Many users prefer anti-reflective matte screens often used in "professional" displays.

    4K & HiDPI & Retina Displays

    4K displays (
    3840 x 2160 pixels) have just been introduced recently, and are usually only found as external computer displays (or TVs). These "first generation" displays come with all the caveats of a new technology, and you should do your research before purchasing one.

    HiDPI (or HDPI, i.e. High Dots Per Inch) and Apple "Retina" displays (typically 2560 x 1440 or greater) refers to very high density pixel displays generally found on laptops.
    On laptops, a HiDPI display is generally any display with 200+ DPI (DPI is more literally pixels per inch), which generally translates to a resolution of 2560 x 1440 or greater on a 13"+ sized screen. A 4K display can also loosely be termed an HiDPI display.

    The purpose of such displays is not necessarily to increase the screen real estate (though in a sense they can be used in that way), but rather to make everything on the screen extra sharp by scaling up screen elements to a normal size using twice the number of pixels. For example, a 3800 x 1800 resolution would show the same sized screen elements as a 1900 x 900 screen, but those elements would appear twice as sharp because they're using twice the number of pixels.

    However, and this is a very significant caveat, Windows and the applications that run on it, weren't originally designed to use HDPI screens. The way Microsoft addresses this is through Windows Display DPI scaling. Windows can scale the size of elements on screen to be more readable. Windows has had some form of DPI scaling since Windows XP, though the results have always been rather mixed. Microsoft has continued to refine the way DPI scaling works, and with the latest changes in W8.1, and the increasing popularity of HDPI displays, developers are finally beginning to take notice. However, presently most software still does not work very well when a very high DPI scaling is used.

    Users new to a HDPI display will usually find one of two things when they boot up their new computer: either no DPI scaling is used and everything looks so tiny on their screen that it's almost unusable, or everything looks normal, but applications behave oddly, including Revit.

    The solution is to dive into the Windows Display DPI scaling settings. Since each version of Windows handles this a little differently, you may have to do a little googling. In Windows 8.1 (which is strongly recommended for any system using a 4K or HiDPI display), you can find the settings in Control Panel > Display. You'll see a "Change the size of all items" slider from Smaller to Larger. Depending on the resolution of the display(s), there will be between one and four settings, starting at 100% (Smaller), 125%, 150%, 200% (Larger). Revit does pretty well up to 150%. 200% will "break" Revit
    - weird Ribbon and dialog box graphic issues will become visible and make Revit unusable. So you'll have to find a compromise between a high DPI scale factor and comfortable sized screen elements.

    Here's a very thorough (and somewhat technical) article on the current state of affairs.

    Bottom Line
    For desktop displays, there's really no excuse for anything smaller than 24", and 27" or larger is recommended - you'll really appreciate the extra screen real estate. While there are many great displays available, the Dell Ultrasharp line is one of the most popular due to their high quality display components and anti-reflective matte screens.

    You'll probably want an external display for a laptop as well for extended use, but if you plan on doing extensive Revit work on the laptop display as well, get at least a 15" or preferably 17”+ display (if you’re willing to sacrifice some portability).

    You might want to hold off on the desktop 1st gen 4K displays until prices come down and they work out some of the Windows support issues. The HDPI displays on laptops are recommended with the caveat that, for the time being, there may need to be a compromise with the DPI scaling.


    STORAGE (HARD DRIVES & SSD)

    Storage drives are so big and fast these days, almost anything will work just fine. If your computer will be used in a multi-user office connected to a separate file server where all your Revit project files are stored, you probably don't need anything more than a 250+ GB drive for Windows and your apps. If you're storing all your files on the drive in your PC, then you'll want something significantly bigger - 500+ GB depending on how many projects you have and how long you keep them on your computer. And don’t forget to back up your data! Keep in mind that those recent Autodesk software suites can take up a lot of room. And if you do individual installs, the download, unpacking of the installation files, and then the installation itself can take up a 100 GB, even if only temporarily until the install files can be safely deleted.

    Hard Drives
    Most traditional desktop hard drives are 7.2K (or 7200 RPM - the rotational speed of the discs inside the drive - the higher the number, the faster the drive), while laptops may have 5.4K or 7.2K drives.

    There are also high-speed 10K and 15K drives. However, with even large capacity SSDs becoming affordable, they only make practical sense in rare configurations - I'd strongly recommend considering a SSD instead.

    SSD (Solid State Drive)
    SSD is the new kid on the block relatively speaking. SSDs don't have mechanical discs like a hard drive – they’re made up entirely of special memory chips. They are extremely fast, much faster than traditional hard drives, but they're still kind of spendy (relative to equal capacity HDDs), and the storage capacities are more limited - though they've finally reached a price point where there's no excuse not to have one. What does the extra expense get you? The OS boots faster, apps open faster, copying and moving large files is faster, and often gives an unquantifiable zippier "feel" to the computer (this may sound trivial to some, but trust me, it makes a huge difference). They're made by a variety of different manufacturers, some are better than others. I would suggest at least a 240+ GB drive (especially if you have one of the larger Autodesk suite of apps). A not uncommon practice is to use the SSD for the OS and apps, and a secondary hard drive for data. SSDs should no longer be considered a "luxury" component - they really make a noticeably difference in the computer's overall performance.

    FAQ for storage drives

    "Will a faster drive make Revit run faster?"
    Aside from actually launching Revit, it will not perform faster – once the application and data are loaded into RAM, the drive speed doesn't really come into play much.

    "How about speeding up Revit file opens and saves?"
    It does affect it somewhat, but the speed of opening and saving files is largely based on the CPU and RAM, not the drive. In informal tests between a traditional hard drive and a super fast SSD, I found opening files a little bit faster, but saving Revit files to be pretty much the same in most scenarios. A fast drive will launch Revit noticeably faster though. File servers with heavy user traffic can benefit from faster drives. However, if you have time to go get a cup of coffee every time you “Save to Central”, it’s probably an issue unrelated to the drive performance.

    "Should I get a second hard drive to use as a dedicated page (swap) file?"
    No - this is crazy talk.

    "Should I get a 5.4K or 7.2K HDD drive for my laptop?... and how about those "Green" drives?"
    You should get an SSD! But if you get a HDD, it depends... if the HDD will host Windows and your apps, then 7.2K will be appreciated. If it's primarily used for secondary storage, then 5.4K is often fine and you probably won't notice much of a difference (and they're quieter as well). "Green" drives (i.e. environmentally "green" because they use less energy) are really just a marketing term for desktop drives that operate at the slower 5.4K speed.

    Bottom Line
    Get a SSD 240 GB or larger, and I would definitely encourage 480 GB or larger if you can swing it. Add another SSD or a traditional hard drive if you have additional storage needs.


    NETWORKING

    For Local Area Networks (LAN), Revit will work with just about any networking. For wired connections, you'll want a gigabit (1 Gb) connection (or better), which is standard on almost all computers. For wireless connections, you'll want an 802.11n (Wireless "N") network (or better).

    Where you need to pay closer attention is on wired connections to routers and switches (hubs). For instance, many routers still only have 100 Mb ports, so I recommend getting a 1 Gb switch and plugging servers and workstations into that, then plugging the switch into the router. The computers on the network can connect to each other at 1 Gb speeds while bypassing the router (aside from actually connecting to the Internet where 100 Mb connections are typically far faster than the actual Internet connection).

    For Wide Area Networks (WAN), typically networking from a remote office (or home) to another office, VPN is known to work, but can be rather clumsy and slow. Services like DropBox are inadequate and will not work. Look into Revit Server or third party products such as Riverbed Steelhead.


    COMPUTERS

    HP, Dell, Lenovo, Sony, Acer, etc. are all fine. If you can find a reputable local system builder, that's a great way to go as well. There may be some differences in build quality and overall reliability, but they all have pretty much the same components inside, so it mostly comes down to personal preference, available system configurations, budget, etc. Some users working solo or in small offices may choose to build their own computers, buying all the components and assembling the computer themselves, which can be a "fun" way to go, but keep in mind what will be your support options if something in the computer stops working.


    REVIT ON THE MAC (OS X)


    See this post!


    UPGRADING YOUR COMPUTER

    Upgrades, i.e. replacing older parts of the computer with newer parts can sometimes bring new life to an older computer. Upgrading RAM is very common and generally easy to do. Upgrading a video card on a desktop computer is fairly easy to do, though it can be tricky to know whether the PSU (power supply unit in the computer) can support it - definitely check before buying a new video card. Replacing or adding a hard drive or SSD is generally pretty easy to do. Upgrading the CPU and/or motherboard on a desktop is quite a bit more difficult and involves more tech know-how – not to be attempted by the faint of heart.

    However, before you start upgrading, think bigger picture. Don’t start down the path of throwing good money into a system that really should just be replaced with a new one. I’ve seen this way too many times, and it rarely turns out well even after the money is spent.

    Bottom Line
    If your system is two years old or older, most often going with a brand new system makes far better sense than trying to upgrade one part at a time.


    BUDGET

    Don't be cheap - your business depends on your computers. Spending a bit more money is peanuts compared to your computer holding you back from getting work done. When specifying the components of a system, think about value and bang for your buck. When deciding on a budget, think about how long you expect to have the computer and look at the cost of ownership per year over that time period. It often makes more sense to spend a little less money but upgrade more often than to spend a lot of money and be forced to hold onto a computer past its prime.

    Bottom Line
    Two years on the short end, two to three years is probably considered the sweet spot; anything more than that and you're probably losing productivity.

    __________

    I've been a computer enthusiast for over twenty years. I know a lot, but I don't know everything. Drop me a PM with suggestions, or if you spot any errors, or think something needs further clarification, or feel free to take it up with me in the forums. And please post those questions, requests for advice, and solutions!
    Last edited by iru69; May 19th, 2014 at 01:17 AM.
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    ATI's Eyefinity(both game cards and Firepro cards) and nVidia's Mosaic (only Quadro cards) can combine two monitors into one "big" monitor so you can boost Revit efficiency by using its shortcuts to tile up to five windows onto the two screens rather than just putting some dialogue boxes onto the 2nd display.
    In my daily work, I use two IPS or PVA panel LCD monitors and make them work in portrait mode(don't try this with TN panel LCD). It's perfect for this Eyefinity or Mosaic method because in portrait mode after you tile the drawing windows, the window size can be nice and square.
    I tried Eyefinity with 3 monitors, but I had to resize all the drawing windows manually, too much trouble.

  3. #3
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    God sent me this post! Amazing!
    I have being looked for all of these everywhere in Chinese Revit forum, and got nothing back.

    Study, study, and study.
    BTW, I just got a 560Ti the day before yesterday, and then, god sent this to me this for reward!

  4. #4
    Member hypnox1's Avatar
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    Good post Iru. I have a document I wrote for system memory for the other technical consultants in office that goes through a sort of basic look at system memory and how to talk with clients about it. I tend to have my own odd way of looking at RAM needs based on overall project and links' size that you may want to cut out but the hyperlinks at the end tend to be nice for people looking for a bit more information on RAM.

    System Memory (RAM) – DDR? Dual Channel? Triple Channel? What do I need?

    RAM can often be a confusing thing to really think about. As of writing this, dual and triple channel are the standard for what comes on system boards. DDR is simply a classification of RAM that stands for Double Data Rate.

    When dealing with dual or triple channel RAM there are some prerequisites. The RAM to be used must be purchased as part of a dual or triple channel kit. This means the RAM pieces you are purchasing are part of a matched set that will have the best compatibility with each other. When purchasing multiple dual or triple channel sets you will want to be sure that you are purchasing matching brands and speeds.

    So how much RAM do you actually want on your system to be sure you have enough? The Autodesk rule to this is to have 20x project size available for total system memory. However, this is somewhat misleading and incorrect. Often companies will simply look at only their file and not include the linked files from other disciplines in this calculation. For instance, if you have a 300 MB project this would come out to 6 GB of RAM required to operate it, but this does not take into account the linked files that will also be using RAM while loaded into a project. So take for instance a 300 MB project with many links in it that all come close to this size as well. You can quickly run into needing 48+ GB of memory according to the 20x rule. 48 GB of RAM on most systems is not a realistic number, so what is?

    When opening a file, whether the main file or a link, it is unpacked to 4x its save size on the disk. This means that a 300 MB file opens to 1200 MB in size. So if all files added up in a project total 2400 MB save size, this will then open to require 9600 MB of RAM simply to open everything up. Including for overhead of Revit operation, Windows (which reserves 1200 MB for itself), and any other programs such as Outlook, Internet Browser, and PDF viewers you will be looking at wanting 16000 MB, or 16 GB, of RAM on the system to handle this type of work load. This leads us to more of an 8x rule to handling Revit files on a system to be able to handle everything Revit is doing as well as allowing users to still have other necessary programs open at the same time without having system stability issues due to running out of RAM available to them.

    What does dual and triple channel RAM do for a system? They are both a system to allow multiple pieces of RAM to process information at the same time, thus speeding up how quickly information is passed around the system. In the case of dual channel RAM, two pieces are running together. In the case of triple channel, three pieces are running together.

    Looking for advanced resources on these different thoughts?

    System Memory:
    Random-access memory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Dual Channel:
    Multi-channel memory architecture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Triple Channel:
    Multi-channel memory architecture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    CAS Latency (RAM speed):
    CAS latency - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    Junior Member Rustle's Avatar
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    Has anyone experimented with 10GB netowork infrastructure to try to reduce Sync with Central time? In particular I'm thinking about our 1GB switches have a 10GB connection to the stack so maintaing that 10GB connection to the file server and then the SAN might be helpful.

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    Administrator Gordon Price's Avatar
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    Russel,
    are your switches already at least 8GB backbone? At 1GB to the clients I would think all the switches would be 8GB fiber interconnects and 8GB to the servers. In which case I doubt going to 10GB is going to change anything, as all file operations in Revit are CPU limited once the client interface is 1GB, and even then I don't think it is a speed/bandwidth issue. I think the latency with 100MB ethernet is the real problem, as I have never measured actual network usage over about 5% on a 1GB interface during any Revit file access, but I have measured 50% utilization on 100MB, so basically the same thruput, and not really even saturating the 100MB. And I haven't seen radically faster file access times on 1GB vs 100MB, but I have seen consistent central file corruption when one team member was on 100MB and the rest was on 1GB. Get the whole team on 1GB and corruption went away. Your TN project being the case in point.
    Also, it will depend on the speed of the hard drive array as well. If the 8GB backbone is already saturating the drive array then upping the interconnect speed isn't going to do anything. But again, if you see a speed increase it is likely to only be when doing a large file copy in Explorer. I think Revit is going to be more limited by the client CPU than anything else. Fine topic for a white paper from Autodesk if you ask me.

    Gordon

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    iru69, you are wise and understand Revit's hardware needs. Particulary in the i7 vs xeon and GeForce vs Quadro debates. My preference today for a Revit workstation with some 3DS Max useage would be:

    Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64Bit

    Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition 3.3 GHz
    Asus Rampage IV Extreme BF3 X79 Board
    Corsair Vengeance Red 32GB PC3-15000, DDR3-1866 MHz

    (2) EVGA GeForce 580 Classified Video Cards, 3Gb GDDR5 PCI-Express 2.0
    Dell UltraSharpe U3011 30" LCD Monitor 2540x1600
    (2) Dell UltraSharpe U2312HM 23" LED Monitors 1920x1280
    Dell AY511 Sound Bar

    Crucial CT512M4SSD 2.5" Solid State Drive 512 Gb, SATA 6Gb/s
    (2) Seagate Barracuda 2TB Serial ATA Hard Drive - 2TB, 7200 RPM 64Mb 6 Gb/s RAID 1
    Lite-On 12X Internal Blu-Ray Writer with Lightscribe
    Western Digital 3TB USB 3.0 My Book External Backup Drive

    Corsair CMPSU-1200AX 1200 Watt Power Supply
    Corsair Hydro H80 CPU Liquid Cooler
    Silverstone Temjin TJ09-B Aluminum ATX Case

    Logitech Iluminated Keyboard
    Logitech Corded Laser Mouse 1000 DPI

    Mark

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    Forum Co-Founder iru69's Avatar
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    Hi Mark,

    Well, I don't know about "wise", but I have a little experience.

    That's a smok'n system!

    My only concern would be the water cooler. It's a gamble... most of the time, no problem... but if there's a problem, e.g. leak, say bye-bye to your system. Personally, that's not a gamble I'd be willing to take. Besides, you can get excellent results on air.

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    Forum Addict gdoherty0102's Avatar
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    One thing that might be noted for the RAM and HDD is the paging file in Windows 7. I upgraded my RAM to 24gb and ended up having to get a second hard drive because of the paging file size. Granted you can change how large you allow the paging file, but this could potentially impact performance. Granted we have 160gb 10k rpm hard drives, so a pretty small hard drive to begin with when you consider you can get 1tb for around $100 now.

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    I assumed that the Corsair Hydro sealed water-cooling I put in my current system 18 months ago was leak proof. Now you have me up in the middle of the night sniffing my system for coolant. Seems OK and has worked great so far.

    How do you feel about liquid nitrogen cooling? (http://kingpincooling.com)
    Mark

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