AutoCAD 3D Graphics Performance

Ever since I posted my graphics performance comparison I have received a bunch of emails from people asking me why I excluded NX, CATIA and AutoCAD from the comparison. Well, as far as NX and CATIA are concerned, I don’t have them installed on my computer. The reason I left out AutoCAD was because I was more interested in comparing MCAD systems or programs that could be used in the MCAD space. For example, even though Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended is not a CAD system, Adobe is promoting it to the Manufacturing industry. So I added it to the mix.

One reader made the point that Autodesk has been adding more and more 3D features (like surfacing) to AutoCAD since the last couple of releases and that I should have compared AutoCAD as well. Another was quite upset that I included Inventor and not AutoCAD. Frankly, I am pleasantly surprised at the kind of enthusiastic response I have received with this whole 3D graphics performance comparison thing.

So since readers wanted to know how AutoCAD compared to the rest, I decided to load the engine model into AutoCAD 2011 and give it a spin. Take a look at this video.

Pretty good, you might say. But if you have been paying close attention to the videos I have been posting these week, you will notice that something is not right with this video when compared to the rest. There are no edges displayed. Now take a look at this video. This has the display of edges turned on.

Yes, I am as dumbfounded as you. How can this be? I mean, its not like Autodesk is not in possession of great graphics technology. The Inventor video showed excellent graphics performance. So why is AutoCAD such a disaster? Well, I can only guess it’s because AutoCAD and Inventor use two very different graphics platforms.

After seeing AutoCAD’s pathetic graphics performance I began wondering if I was doing something wrong. Well, orbiting around the shaded view (without the edges) seemed pretty good. All I did was switch the visual style from “Shaded” to “Shaded with edges” and recorded the second video. I didn’t touch anything else.

There is another thing, although I don’t think it could have an bearing on the graphics performance. AutoCAD cannot read STEP files. So I had to use one of my plug-ins called STEP Import for AutoCAD to import the STEP file of the engine into AutoCAD. STEP Import for AutoCAD uses the 3D InterOp libraries from Spatial to read STEP files. So do many other CAD systems that were in the original graphics performance comparison. I used the default STEP import options as set by Spatial which are listed in the screen shot below.

My customers have been using these default import options for quite a while now and nobody has complained about them. Nevertheless, after I imported the STEP file I ran AutoCAD’s Audit command to check if there were any problems. Here is the audit report.

As you can see the AutoCAD drawing is clean as a whistle. STEP Import for AutoCAD imported all the parts of the engine as perfectly valid 3D solids, not loose surfaces, regions, meshes or some other degraded object type. In my opinion, this drawing is as good as it gets. I didn’t change any graphics settings in AutoCAD. This is how AutoCAD 2011 comes out of the box.

This is almost unbelievable. I mean, we are talking about AutoCAD here. “The” AutoCAD. True, it is primarily a 2D CAD application. But now you can navigate pretty quickly around 3D point clouds that contain more than a billion points, right? Check out this Autodesk video. Why can’t AutoCAD navigate around this model like any other CAD system? Damn, if a $295 CAD system like Moment Of Inspiration (which has an installer size of 10 MB) can do it fairly easily (see video), what the hell is AutoCAD’s problem?

  • Owen Wengerd

    I suspect AutoCAD 2010 will perform better, and AutoCAD 2008 better yet, with default settings. Even if you tweak the graphics driver settings, I think AutoCAD 2011 will still be slower than any version from 2008 to 2010. You can thank the .NET framework.

  • Why is Autocad 'so bad'? In a word – Deliberately.

    AutoCAD is being deliberately hobbled. Ever since the release of R13, AutoCAD has been a very reasonable modeler for many. That people persist on pursuing the absurd – it’s only a 2D package – says volumes about the failure of many to take the time to look closely and the deception at work by the marketers.

  • Macray411

    While talking about AutoCAD – is there a good way of exporting anything useful fro AutoCAD that has been modelled in 3D?

    I have tried whatever options to export a 3 floor building to Cinema4D/ MoI / VectorWorks format to work with it. Nothing really works. the best solution is DXF where all flat surfaces (if seen in normal topview) are simply not exported.
    Why is there no 3ds export anymore? Where is Collada or FBX?
    Any workaround to get a useful 3D Model out of AutoCAD? And no, I'm not even considering Max.

  • It actually depends how you have modelled your 3D stuff. If you have used 3D solids then the inbuilt ACISOUT command will export them to a SAT file which can be imported into any solid modelling system.

    As far as 3DSOUT is concerned, I remember reading something about Autodesk putting it back in. See

    At SYCODE, we offer several mesh export plug-ins. You may want to take a look at

  • John

    I have to ask, Is the 3D hardware acceleration option enabled? Often, even though AutoCAD will pop-up a window stating it's configuring the 3D settings, it will leave the product in software emulation mode unless it finds the exact version of the certified Nvidia driver.

  • Hardware acceleration was turned off by default. So I didn't touch it. But after seeing the pathetic graphics performance, I turned it on and adjusted some other stuff as well. The improvement was only marginal. After turning on adaptive degradation, the parts stopped dropping but frame rate was miserable.

  • Jure

    For STEP/IGES import I suggest you to use AutoCAD MECHANICAL. It includes the translators.

    Otherwise thanks for your excellent overview!

  • Jure

    Another “discovery”: NVIDIA offers “better ACAD driver”: