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.