3D Graphics Performance Comparison

Today I finally managed to do something that I have been wanting to do for quite a while now – compare the graphics performance of all the CAD systems installed on my Dell M6400 mobile workstation. My rig runs Windows 7 32 bit. It has a blazing fast 250 GB solid state hard drive, 4 GB of RAM and sports a NVIDIA Quadro FX 2700M graphics card with half a gig of memory on it.

To do the comparison I decided to load a 45 MB STEP file of a highly detailed engine and 3D orbit around the model. The model itself is quite complex. SolidWorks supposedly used more than a million triangles to represent it. Other CAD systems may have tessellated the model differently. Although I understand that the number of triangles can affect performance, I didn’t consider that to be something I needed to bother myself with because I assume CAD vendors use optimum tessellation settings as the default when shipping their software. Actually, I make it a habit to avoid messing with the default settings of a CAD system because as a start I need to check if my plug-ins work well with them in their default state. The only setting I did change was to turn on the display of edges if they were turned off by default. Displaying a bunch of colored triangles is the easy part and all CAD systems can do that. Its displaying the edges that puts an extra load on the graphics pipeline and that is precisely what I wanted to compare.

Before performing each test I ensured that the system had returned to its idling state. This may not be the case in a real world situation since users really don’t wait for their systems to come to rest before starting a large operation. However, I thought it best to do this in order to avoid giving a particular CAD system an undue advantage or burdening another with some residual hard disk activity.

I wanted to add IRONCAD to the list of CAD systems but could not because for some reason on my computer it crashes on start up. One of these days, I need to figure out why.

Here is a series of videos showing me navigating around the model of the engine in each CAD system.

Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended 9

As you can see, it look horrible. Acrobat displays what is could calculate in the given time and resources and shows wireframe bounding boxes for what it could not. If you turn off edges the model shows up nicely. So instead of showing these stupid wireframe bounding boxes, they could show the entire model without edges while the user is navigating. When user stops navigating the edges can be calculated and displayed. This is a technique commonly used in CAD software and someone needs to tell Adobe that such a thing exists.

Alibre Design V12

Alibre Design does a good job showing the model with edges turned on. They had mentioned improved graphics performance for large models was one of the enhancements in V12 and it shows. But I believe there is some scope for improvement. The navigation is still a bit sticky for large models like this one.

CoCreate Modeling 17.0

As you can see CoCreate Modeling messed up the STEP file import. A number of surfaces were imported untrimmed. I didn’t bother to fix the geometry. CoCreate Modeling is one CAD system that uses the technique I mentioned in the case of Adobe Acrobat above. If you look closely, the edges are hidden during the navigation and displayed once again when navigation ends. If you look even more closely, you will notice that when the graphics engine so overburdened that cannot even display a shaded part, it displays a shaded bounding box in its place. If you didn’t notice it, hit Replay and look more closely.

Inventor 2011

Smooth navigation with edges turned on. Frankly, I’m not surprised since Autodesk did some really nice stuff to Inventor’s visualization in 2011.

KeyCreator V9

I must say KeyCreator’s graphics performance is much better than I expected. As you can see the response time is great. No complaints whatsoever.


In this video you can see the technique I mentioned above more clearly. Like CoCreate Modeling, KOMPAS-3D does not bother calculating edges when the user is navigating. It simply shows the shaded model only.

Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0

As expected, the navigation is state of the art. After all, it’s PTC.

Rhino 4.0

Now you may look at the above video and think that Rhino’s graphics is not designed for large models. It certainly looks that way. The problem is that when the graphics pipeline reaches it limit the edges are calculated by using a very loose tolerance, which gives rise to those awkward wireframes that you see in the video. In such cases it would help to use the technique used by CoCreate Modeling and KOMPAS-3D and show the shaded model only. Also the response is a big slow as well, even slower than that of Alibre Design.

Solid Edge ST2

Solid Edge was a bit of a disappointment. I expected a little better from Siemens. The shaded model with edges shows up fine, but the response is quite slow. As you can see towards the end of the video above the time lag is just too large. In Part 5 of my series on “What’s New In Solid Edge” I mentioned that Solid Edge ST3 boasts of “more than 4 times faster graphics performance“. Indeed, if it is is up against products like SolidWorks, Inventor and Pro/ENGINEER, it badly needs that 4X.

Another thing. Solid Edge took an exceptionally long time to load the STEP file. In fact, I thought it had hung up on me. So I killed the process, restarted my computer, restarted the STEP file import and went for lunch. On my return I was relieved to see the model in Solid Edge. All the other CAD systems loaded the STEP file relatively faster.

SolidWorks 2010

What can I say? Its SolidWorks. Did you expect anything less?

SpaceClaim 2010

SpaceClaim 2010 is simple awesome. Just compare this video to the Solid Edge one and you will know what I mean. After you watch this video hit Replay and watch it again. I know you want to. 😉

VX 14.3

As you can see, VX has some serious issues with regard to large models. Parts of the model go missing completely. No shaded representation, no bounding box, no nothing. This needs to be fixed. Also I tried viewing the model without the edges so get a sense of how good VX’s graphics pipeline was. But I couldn’t find an option in the VX UI. Speaking of which, their UI is something I believe that needs to be changed. And I mean completely.

???? Moment Of Inspiration V2

I will end this post with this video. If you know which CAD system this is, leave a comment.

This wonderful little CAD system is Moment of Inspiration. I have written a five part series called “MoI’s Sexy Graphics” dedicated solely to its breathtaking graphics engine. You may find it interesting.


Inventor, KeyCreator, Pro/ENGINEER and SolidWorks are all very good. Alibre Design comes close. Acrobat, CoCreate, KOMPAS-3D, Rhino, Solid Edge and VX need improvement, a lot in some cases. But on this 4th day of August 2010, I, Deelip Charles Menezes, hereby confer upon SpaceClaim 2010 the title of “Freaking Awesome” with respect to 3D Graphics Performance.

  • Kevin


    Call me Deelip, we’ll get you IronCAD running.


  • Cool post,
    But: What can I say? Its SolidWorks. Did you expect anything less?
    I was actually I thought Solidworks would lag. But because it is a step model and not a feature rich model it has it pretty easy. That is also the main problem with testing this the way you do your missing out the features that most parts have. I think removing the features in ST would really improve performance of a lot of models.

    Last program is Autocad?

  • Imics13


    Which Maintenace Pack did you use at Solid Edge ST2?

    Install the MP7 and test it again.

    Feel the difference! 🙂

  • mgibeault

    Cool post,
    If you have a few minutes, try Rhino without all the isoparms, it should improve greatly.
    To do so you can create a custom display scheme or select all parts, Properties and put “0” in “Isocurve density”


  • Jim Merry

    Acrobat Pro Extended's default setting is to keep a constant frame rate by reverting to a bbox. It's pretty annoying and can easily be config'd to whatever behavior you want, like 'no degradation'.

  • Jim Merry

    Just watched all the videos again and it's hard to tell but it looks like the rendering styles are not the same in the various apps. E.g., ProE and SWX look like they are computing specular highlights and perhaps even shadows. SpaceClaim's shading almost looks flat by comparison.

    Also, one of the ways the developers can seemingly speed things up is by increasing the rotational angle applied by each mouse event generated. There seems to be disparity amongst the top performers on this front as well. Several seem to give fluid performance but KeyCreator seems to have their rotational angle set lower than say SpaceClaim.

    Not to take it away from SpaceClaim: they've done a great job and the onus is on the developer to pick the right set of defaults to provide best perf.

  • George Cook

    Is the ???? video AutoCAD? That would be interesting.

    Also, it appears the SWX import didn't get all the parts…what happened to the alternator?

  • Wanner85

    Has to be MoI3D…

    Wonderful little program.

    Let me know if I got it correct.

  • Marijn,

    By the time data reaches the graphics pipeline, it really does not matter if it was initially a feature based model or dumb geometry. The graphics engine's job is mainly to render a bunch of triangles and the edges on a 2D canvas, that's all.

    Sorry, the last CAD system is not AutoCAD.

  • Marc,

    True. Like I mentioned, without the curves, Rhino shows the shaded model just fine.

  • Jim,

    Yes, I thought so too. I guess I could tweak the settings of these CAD systems to arrive at some kind of common set and then compare them. That would be a more scientific comparison. It would also be an academic one. because most user's don’t do that and I wanted to compare the graphics performance of the CAD systems as they come out of the box. Display of edges is a major factor and I decided to turn that on for all the CAD systems otherwise the comparison would really go haywire.

  • Sorry, it's not AutoCAD. And yes, if I remember correctly, SolidWorks did mention a few rebuild errors. I just ignored them. VX reported a few errors during import as well.

  • You are absolutely correct. The last CAD system is Moment of Inspiration (http://www.moi3d.com). I intend to dedicate a entire blog post to its graphics system. Hope to do that sooner than later.

  • I am using the initial release. I need to do that because I need to test my add-ins on it.

  • Deelipreader

    i have a really annoying problem regarding to performance in solidworks, it's cpu usage. while moving the mouse over an empty part in solidworks i get 50% cpu usage on a dualcore machine. ProE only reaches 10~12%.

  • Magnusod

    Deelip, from which CAD system was the engine exported to a STEP file?
    Interesting to know regarding the problems during import in e.g CoCreate and SolidWorks.

  • Tnarayanan

    ProducrView also supports the STEP format. It wil be interesting to add that to your list of tools.

  • The STEP file was created by Pro/ENGINEER.

  • Great post Deelip, any chance you could take a look at Rhino V5?
    http://download.rhino3d.com/rhino/5.0/wip For a few months now I find it impossible to go back to Rhino 4 mostly because of the look and performance of its 3D graphics

  • My Rhino 5 WIP expired. Looks like it's time to get a new one.

  • Jim

    Any way you can add a link to download the test file(s) used?

  • Sorry, I was given the model under the condition that I don't share it.

  • If you hide all the parts, performance should improve dramatically.

  • What I can say: just what people say before – I'm impressed. This is what I was wondering to do from a long time – and never did in that way :(. Hope you don't mind if I translate some of your comments and place it on my Polish Blog site, given direct links to your original post as a source?
    By the way, I have a question: in Poland many engineers thought & says that Rhino is not a CAD system, just something that can help designers (not engineers) to do their job. Who's got a right in your opinion? Anyway you decided to compare Rhino with SW, Inv etc…
    Last thing: can we expect CATIA in this comparision?
    Best regards
    Maciej Stanislawski

  • Ken

    The reason that Imics13 asked this is that there were significant performance improvements made in one of the Maintenance Patches. It would be interesting to see what difference it makes.

  • John

    Maciej, it's probably best to classify MoI & Rhino as low end, or entry level CAD systems. They operate with the same type of surfaces, but don't have parametrics or feature based modeling, or advanced tools for assembly, engineering, analysis. If anything, it's Acrobat on this list that's not a CAD system.

  • Maceij,

    Please go ahead and translate this post and link to it on your blog.

    As far as Rhino not being a CAD system, let me tell you that I modelled my entire house in 3D (structure, fittings, furniture, etc.) in Rhino before I built it. Now if Rhino is not a CAD system, I don't know what is.

    I don’t have CATIA installed on my computer.

  • I intend to try this our in Solid Edge ST3 when they make it available to me, whenever that may be.

  • True, Acrobat is not a CAD system. I'm not sure why I put it there actually. 😉

  • edge user

    It would be interesting to see what the performance difference is with ST2 at mp7 as there were meant to be performance gains.

  • So I hear. I will look into it.

  • edge user

    good stuff, i will look forward to your results.

  • Graphics enthusiast

    Don't confuse boundary edges with silhouette edges. Some videos show no silhouettes at all. Some videos do not show silhouettes during rotations but display them when finished. One video is displaying silhouettes all the time even during rotations.

    FWIW Pro/E is missing all silhouette edges and many of the boundary edges on the bottom oil pan component. It looks like the Pro/E STEP translation may be more complex than Pro/E's internal representation of the model components. A fair comparison with respect to Pro/E is to “re-import” the STEP file back into Pro/E and re-run the test. Alternatively you can export STEP from another application prior to re-importing into Pro/E.

    You may want to consider loading FRAPS which allows you to see the actual frame rate of the rotations. This unveils the true performance of the display.

  • Graphics Enchusiast,

    Yes, I am not graphics expert, but it is my belief that silhouettes will add only a little more computational load than feature edges. Please feel free to correct me though.

    I also understand that each CAD system will show feature edges depending upon the value of the default feature angle set in each CAD system. So the number of feature edges displayed in each CAD system can differ vastly. Again I didn't consider that to be my problem since I was only interested in comparing the graphics performance using each CAD system's default graphics settings.

    As far as being fair to Pro/E, as it turns out, the STEP file header tells me that it was created by Pro/E itself. So if anything, Pro/E has may actually have an advantage. 😉

    Fraps sounds interesting.

  • Graphics enthusiast

    Feature edges (for CAD systems) are simple line loops extracted from the surface boundaries and are very fast compared to silhouettes. Facet-based modeling programs cannot provide features edges along tangent surfaces and this model contains a lot of those so it is fair to say that the wireframe data is not from angle deviation calculations. The only time I've seen feature angle computation used in a mid-to-high-end CAD package is in an FEA analysis display.

    Yes, Pro/E would have an advantage and I think it's important to remove the advantage by “round-tripping” the data through another conversion to eliminate private data that Pro/E may inject in the STEP data. For example, Pro/E may be eliminating tangent edges to improve performance though IMO not necessarily improving model clarity.

    FRAPS is a good program.

  • Maybe I am not understanding you coirrectly, but the model in this STEP file is a NURBS Brep, not a mesh. Each CAD system is left to tessellate the Brep on its own using its default settings. There are no facet based modelling programs in this list of CAD systems.

    As an aside, I have written a feature edge extraction algorithm that extracts feature edges from mesh data. The user is asked to supply a feature angle. See http://www.sycode.com/products/meshcad_rh/help/

  • Graphics enthusiast

    Precisely – none of these are facet-based modelling programs so none of these would use the feature edge algorithm you are talking about. The feature edges can be extracted directly from the BREP without any computational overhead. Therefore, displaying features edges should not be a huge impact in performance while rendering silhouettes would be.

    I didn't see SketchUp in the list (which happens to be my favorite CAD program).


    spaceclaim is proCAD! TRUE

  • Oleopardi

    can I have this file?

  • Oleopardi

    ok It’s only for test inside of OmniCAD Software

  • Oleopardi

    thank you very much
    …. my example

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  • amparo


    What about Catia and NX?

    •  I have tried Catia, its a multi programmed computer application and I enjoyed my experience in it. Its worth a try. But dont have much knowledge about NX.