Doing all things wrong for Solidworks Performance, need advice.

My company has been using Solidworks for about three years and all that time we have had extremely poor performance/stability from the product
especially with imported geometry. We build automation and assembly equipment and each machine usually starts around a large piece of imported geometry. Complexity varries but a good example would be an automotive seat track assembly complete with springs, motors, all contoured surfaces, wires, etc.
Our inital hardware deployemnt of (13) P4 2.4GHz, 1GB ram, 3dlabs wildact II 5000 machines have given good service in our mixed CAD enviroment of Pro/engineer, autocad, and solidworks. I have started replacing them with compaq XW4100 and XW4200 with 3dlabs Wildcat VP 880 PRO, Realzim 200, and Nvidia FX3200 cards which have been giving good performance but having Solidworks stability issues. All patches, drivers, have been researched and loaded.
To research this I have downloaded the SPEC 2005 benchmark and will be running this on all solidworks workstations and laptops both with local files and network files. So far results have been VERY mixed. Gigabit ethernet helps considerably if the server has enough resources. Which at this time appears to be our problem, all servers have gigabit ethernet but the Ultra 160 SCSI cards can't keep up the flow of data. The server network utilzation is very low 10% or less. We have PDM/works but have not deployed it becasue of interface, political, and cost issues (no time for conversion or deployemnt).
Please provide any comments.
Thanks Anthony J. Kiszka IT Manager Orbitform Inc. 1600 Executive Drive Jackson, MI 49203 517-787-9447 ext 219 517-787-6609 FAX "World Leaders in forming, fastening and riveting System" snipped-for-privacy@orbitform.com www.orbitform.com
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Anthony,
So,, is it network, or local performance that's slow ????? You aren't very clear on that issue.
I have a hard time believing that ultra 160 SCSI's can't keep up with the data flow. That is of course unless a hundred people are trying tio access data from the same place at the same time. In this case, it would be your particular network architecture that's to blame. There are ways to distribute the load.
Are your workstations adequate, in and of themselves ?? P4 based machines are a poor choice for solid modeling performance. AMD 64 based machines (particularly FX55 and Opterons) are so much faster it's laughable. I realize you may forced into buying certain Intel only brands, but that's the sad truth, we have both. All of the P4's went up to the front office where they're more in their element.
As far as the video, this is probably what's causing most of your stability problems. 3D labs VP series has had alot of problems with SW (drivers). The FX3400 and 3Dlabs Realizm are PCIE which is fairly new. It will take awhile to iron out the drivers.
You really need to run common hardware for all your workstations or you'll go nutz !
All ours are exactly the same, and we don't have many issues like this anymore.
Regards
Mark

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Anthony,
Sorry to hear about your problems. Some of what I have is just opinions, but the opinions are based on seeing a lot of setups in trouble. I never seem to hear from people if things are going well.
Anyway, here are some observations:
- Imported Geometry. Imported geometry sux, but if you manage it well, you can minimize the problems. Get good imported data (don't work with Catia data if you can help it). Make sure the source of the data round trips the export to make sure it comes back in to the parent system ok. Learn to use the Import Diagnosis, that can help you out.
- Stability. I've been pounding 14 hour days on my 3 year old laptop for the past week doing complex surfacing around imported Catia geometry, and have only crashed once this week. Regardless of what people want to believe, it is possible to have a relatively stable installation of SolidWorks. The secret is to know the secret (duh), and to be careful about how you treat your machine, what you install, set up, maintenance, etc.
- Wildcat. People seem to like the Wildcat cards, but in my visits, I've found a majority of Wildcat users have problems they can't account for. They're expensive cards, but that doesn't always equate to what you'd think it should. You're better off with the nVidia cards, in my opinion.
- Spaceballs. Spaceballs are probably the #1 hardware/driver troublemaker (aside from video cards). If you use a spaceball, make sure you keep the latest driver and SW add-in. I was in a company ready to throw PDMWorks out the window because it always locked up their systems unless you did this really difficult manuver with the mouse and keyboard when it opened up. The problem was that the spaceball splash screen conflicted with the PDMW splash screen. A new spaceball driver saved PDMW from the trash heap.
- 1 Gb RAM. Sounds like a lot, and it used to be. But if you're doing what sounds to be large assembly design, you might want to plan to use 2 Gb. Watch your Task Manager and see how high the peak memory use goes in a typical modeling session (especially drawings). If you're paging to the HDD, you're wasting time. Plus, if your memory usage gets to about 1.7 Gb, you're gonna crash anyway unless you use the /3Gb switch (google the group for more info).
- Networks. Networks are notorious sources of error. I recently went to a company who was having problems that sound like yours (I work as an independent SW consultant). The time to open this one drawing in particular was their benchmark of success to determine whether they should pay my fee or not. We went from over 15 minutes to open the file to under 1 minute (not using lightweight). True story. A fast network is better than a slow one, but the main goal is to eliminate the network, gig or no gig. The way to eliminate working across the network is to install and use that PDM system that you have already paid for. (I know a consultant who can get you running, configure and educate you on PDMWorks in 2 days)
- Modeling. Of course the way you model effects speed. There's a lot of info posted on this, so I won't go through it again. Google the group or check out stuff on my website.
- System setup. I'm not an IT guy, I'm a mech eng. When I go into places with a cocky IT manager, it's hard for me to tell him he could improve things (especially when it's his anti-virus software which is to fault). When you install things, ask "do I need this", and then if yes, "do I need this on THIS computer". I have a consumer-grade multi-media PC for consumer-grade software, or anything which gets in the way of my workstation going as fast as it can (iTunes is a great application, but don't use it on your workstation). I reformat and reinstall the OS every 6-9 months. Why do you have to do this? Because Microsoft is a pretty sloppy OS (speaking of "consumer-grade"), and SolidWorks only runs on Microsoft. Oh, and personally I'm not a big fan of Compaq for workstations. Dell is a step up, but HP, IBM and Sony are probably more reliable (especially if you're constrained to big name brands), and my new favorite is Boxx.
Anyway, some of this is covered by different things on my website. Some of the information is getting a bit dated, but it's still useful.
http://mysite.verizon.net/mjlombard / http://www.dezignstuff.com /
The verizon site has most of the useful content.
Best of luck,
Matt
snipped-for-privacy@orbitform.com says...

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Howdy Anthony-
Two questions come to mind initially
1) Do your imported models resolve to solids or are they collections of surfaces? If you inport, do you also import curves. You may benefit from having solids (making sure the models you get are water tight) without the extra wires around them.
2) Are you using large assembly mode and loading lightweight where possible once you do begin your design process? Can you reduce your Tool->Options->Doc Properties->Image quality and get a better performance?
Can you elaborate on your actual issues? This one almost classifies as a "We are having trouble" but way too general. Are you crashing, slow, etc?
Just a few ideas on settings - there's a lot more out there if you search this group for performance.
Later,
SMA
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I will try to clarify some of the issues we are having and answer questions.
The primary file server is serving about 100 users (all file serving needs for the company). (5) 70 gb 15K rpm Ultra 160 drives which yeilds 273GB of storage which is about 66% full. Dual P3 1GHZ with 1GB ram and 1gigabit ethernet connection. This file server is due for repalcement, its hardware is not windows 2003 server compatible so were are specifying replacements.
All of our newer workstations are HP 4100/4200 P4 3.4 or better 2GB ram and Nvidia based graphics. These machines are working well. Based on what I have learned durning the benchmarking I may step up the line to the 8200 series which used AMD chips. The problems we are having are on our older machines which I am coming to realize are the problem. They just are not fast enough and replacment will be necessary. The battle I will be fighting is I need these machines to get a three-four year life span, two in engineering, 1-2 in other areas. One thing I find puzzling is solidworks doesn't seem to use memory like pro/e, I very rarely see over a gig of ram being used.
As for stability I have always like the 3dlabs/Wildcat lines for their stability. I purchased a couple of the VP line but they are only slightly faster then the old wildcat II 5000 we were using, I suspect this is from the 8x agp alone. Also many of our systems are rock solid stable. The issues seem to arise when they really have to tax their machines.
IT/network issues, Antivirus and antispyware systems all have been programmed to ignore the solidworks program folders and all solidworks file types, along with autocad, pro/e etc. Running the solidworks benchmark accross the network on our fastest machine proved a 30% slowdown in I/O. Now this was using a 100MB ethernet connection, my testing has shown you can get about 15% of that back by switching to gigabit ethernet. I will be putting the plans together to add a gigabit switch to the wiring closet, and a addtional backbone just for the engineers to use.
Political issues keep us from using PDM/works along with its really poor interface for checking in and out assemblies and the fact that it won't handle pro/e and autocad withing the application. As well as the addtional cost for stand alone seats for the rest of the company to get access to the vault to lookup drawings. More maintenance revenue for solidworks, I thought Pro/E was bad!
Actual issues, well. The biggest one is dealing with imported geometry which casues system slowness. We have no control over it, our customers barely provide it in a timely fashion and it is what it is. If we don't like what we get we are told to bad, you have prints model it yourself. We barely have time to convert the files usually. For example we recently built a six station rotary table assembly system which had a large imported customer parts a power window assembly which were duplicated in the assembly to check rotation clearance. This was killing the system.
Typically our models due reslove as solids, but not until having to do some repair. Quite often we do the import into pro/e first becasue it does a better job putting the parts/assemblies together, then re-export. I can set the image quality and the large assembly mode lower to show less part detail while moving and spinning but that's were my users revolt. "They want their cirlces to be round and all part shown all them time" My response from them in I don't have reduced quality in Pro/e, whay do I have to have it in Solidworks? We also NEVER have slowdowns in Pro/E like solidworks on the same hardware.
My fear here is that becasue of solidworks design it will drive me to replace the workstations faster, yearly showing a higher TCO. Our budget would not be able to handle that many workstations yearly.
Thanks AJK
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You should have engineering on their own server with all workstations in eng sharing a backbone that isn't shared with anyone else in the company.
You also need to have an aggressive policy regarding internet apps, internet browsing, downloading files, attachments like videos on email messages and listening to streaming radio. This stuff kills network performance.
If you have a 100 users and aren't enforcing a net usage policy then you can be sure that at least a couple are listening to streaming radio at any time.
That might solve your network problem but it'll obviously cost you.
The imported geometry is definitely a pain that I've experienced before and I don't know if there's really a workaround.
How many parts and assemblies are in your top level? How many top level mates? Are parts more feature intensive than is required? How many incontext relationships do you have? I realize that modelling 100% parametrically is attractive but you pay a big speed price for it.
Typically I use parametrics for layout but break relationships as parts get released. This speeds up your assemblies and also means that released parts can't get changed by accident, a rev needs to be forced.
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What you can do with imported geometry is to create a part that has copies of just the features you need to work with. Only resolve the imported part in configurations where it must be visible (drawings, renders?).
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A very valid argument from your users indeed and hard to counter. This is one of those realism vs performance trade-offs. I just went thru a go around here and found that I got a really really really vast improvement in open-to-edit time from loading assemblies lightweight. The resolution reduction and lighweight load are not tied at the hip. My suspicion here is that I got an 80% improvement out of lightweight & another 20 out of resolution, but I did not validate that with testing.
I do know that a fully resolved load was taking about 25 minutes and a lighweight load is now taking under 1 minute.
It seems that you have a great handle on hardware and what you have seems to fit the bill. It's funny but before we used the lightweight load, we were all in a "let's upgrade" mode. We are not there any more. Of course there is always the person who actually likes the 25 minute load and the complaining that comes along with it - personally I like lightweight alot now since my workflow is no longer inhibited by needless computer grinding.
Let us know what you find out.
Later,
SMA
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snipped-for-privacy@orbitform.com says...

What's wrong with the check in interface? What are you comparing it to? You're complaining about cost issues with PDMW? PDMWorks is the least expensive PDM app around, plus its already paid for except for the non- sw user access. For non-sw users, you have the options of the web portal or floating standalone clients, depending how many of them or if they need r/w access.
No one can help you with vague "political issues". You've got a problem, you've got a solution, but you won't use the solution. Your main problem isn't the network (but engineering is usually on its own server). Will management go to bat for you at all or are they the "political issue"?
The one thing about politics is that you're not going to please everyone regardless of what you do. Once you accept that, just do what you think is right. Allowing a business to be paralyzed by politics is a crime of cowardice.

You mentioned springs and wires. Certainly springs can be removed from the imported model. Things with a lot of unnecessary detail like that will definitely kill you. Look at how much detail you need and how often you need it. Turn it off when you don't need it.
When you have to make references to the imported geometry, consider having a part that only has the necessary faces created by knitting faces of the import

On my recent job with imported data, I found that a "heal edge" feature at the top of the tree got stuck with a perpetual rebuild symbol, so everything I did like opening or closing a sketch, it had to rebuild 90 features back to that heal feature. Keep an eye out for things like that. Also, run the Tools, Check on your import. Even if it looks like it has no errors (no cherries or lemons), there can still be bad faces, which cause problems.

It sounds like your users are more comfortable in Pro/E. CAD is not religion. Why don't you stay on Pro? More "political issues"?

Then why don't you use Pro/E?

Doing the right thing is often unpopular, sometimes even just doing what it takes to get the job done is unpopular. I can't tell you what the right thing is, but it looks like you're having problems with that. Using SolidWorks isn't going to mean you buy new workstations every year, but it may mean that you need to learn or develop new techniques for dealing with stuff.
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Matt,
The political issues I speak are what lead us to solidworks, it was a compromise. We had/have 5 users running pro/e and the other 8 running autocad. The president of the company wanted to go solids accross the board, so a selection process insued. Becasue of some bad dealing's with pro/e sales people in the past they were given a less then favorable review, even though we already had the product and had been sucessfully using it with 5 users, we had no problems with the product or support. When the selection of solidworks came down, the pro/e people didn't care for the idea but were not give much choice.
Becasue of the way work flows are here department managers wanted and needed the ability to view a projects files at their current design state at any moment. If users didn't regularly check in to the vault their managers would be able to check up on them.
Believe me I know what the correct implementation should have been, but the culture change was just to great for some of my designer/engineers/project managers, they couldn't hardly cope and some autocad users didn't see the need for a 3d package.
PDM/works or another PDM will be deployed on a new file server which will be on an isolated VLAN and backbone. I will also be deploying gigabit to the desktops for engineering.
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As far as hardware goes I have been running an AMD64 FX53 for a year now. It has only been bested once on a benchmark by another AMD and then only by a fraction of a percent.
Which benchmarks are you using?
I would suggest SPECapc Solidworks and Pro/E, Ship in a Bottle, STAR2.1 and Patbench. SPECapc is more a graphics test, Ship in a Bottle combines graphics and processor. Run Ship in a Bottle with graphics set to Fast, Slow, HLR on and HLR off to get a good idea of what your system can do. If you have a fast system you should get around 18 seconds with graphics set to fast and HLR off. STAR is strictly CPU and Patbench is heavy on memory bandwidth. Patbench will run your machine out of memory if you set it to 12 or more iterations.
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TOP wrote:

I have been using SPECapc 2005 with sp3, running both local and accross the network. I have been finding some very valid weak machines, none of our first generation cad workstations are performing very well. Some of the newer machines are performing very well my fastest over time is 335 sec from a HP XW4200, 3.6 P4 2gb memory and fx3400 graphics. Interesting that running the test with data files stored on network yeilded a time of 450 sec.
I am considering going dual opteron simply from the fact that my solidworks designers are not just designers but project managers as well. They typically have two or three applications open including solidworks. Outlook, Project, Encompix (erp/mrp system) which they need to do their jobs.
Thanks AJK
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I keep a Win98 box next to my desk for the office chores. Then my CAD box does only CAD. With a KVM switch it is a snap to switch machines on a single monitor. I have considered using RealVNC to eliminate the KVM switch also. The problem with dual Opteron's for this application is just that the one doing office chores probably will cost you as much as a cheapo computer just for those low impact tasks. Since SW doesn't utilize the second processor it will not help performance although it might on Pro/E or ACAD. By playing with task priority you can minimize CPU contention with a single CPU. See XPTC on how to set that in the registry. I run FEA for hours while running SW and don't really notice a slowdown. For example for the last week and a half the idle process only shows 29 hours. During that time a number of very long FEA jobs ran while I was using SW and while I was home.
Again, look at the code for SPECapc and see what they are really measuring. Did network vs local change the CPU or I/O scores much?
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