NVIDIA further refines its graphics cards

August 11, 2010

The NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 is a mid-level graphics card optimized to perform with today’s most popular design programs, including SolidWorks and AutoCAD.

NVIDIA released its 10th generation of professional graphics cards earlier this year. I was given a test NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 with the HP Z600 workstation I reviewed earlier this year. Here’s a more detailed look at the Quadro FX1800, a mid-range professional graphics card that would be a good fit for any architecture or engineering firm looking to upgrade its graphics cards with or without new hardware.

The Quadro FX1800 has 756 megabytes of onboard memory, two digital display outputs, and one DVI output, all in a PCI Express interface. The card does not require a separate power connector from your computer’s power supply. While the Quadro FX1800 is listed as a top mid-level card, it’s really the minimum anyone doing heavy CAD or using even the most basic BIM programs should have. Only NVIDIA itself manufactures the Quadro line, so the company can guarantee quality and performance. (Its GeForce consumer line of cards has much more tolerant production specifications and therefore can be outsourced to other manufacturers around the world.) All Quadro cards are certified to run on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.

Thanks to its partnerships with software manufacturers such as Autodesk and Adobe, NVIDIA makes sure that every Quadro card passes minimum requirements before shipping. Working with AutoCAD 2010, Revit, and Navisworks Manage 2010, my Quadro FX 1800 was ready to use upon installation with the latest Autodesk drivers and also optimized to take more of the workload off my test machine’s processors. The NVIDIA Application Configuration Engine, included with every Quadro card, automatically adjusts graphics settings for optimized application performance from the start, eliminating the need to manually adjust settings for different applications.

I noticed the 50% more graphics memory that the Quadro FX1800 boasts over the last generation of NVIDIA cards for interactive visualization of large assemblies and scenes. (The Quadro FX1500 was used in the HP xw4600 I tested last year.) One test of performance was done by opening multiple large models created in both Revit and AutoCAD. The graphics card was able to significantly speed up the process of opening and viewing the large files. The test took about twice as long on the older machine.

One welcome improvement in the card’s interaction with AutoCAD 2010 is higher image quality with AutoCAD Smooth Lines. Any card can render a generic line, but will it produce the smooth, high-quality lines that AutoCAD demands? Usually not. That used to lead to only two choices: sacrifice line quality for the sake of performance, or fall back to software rendering and live with the inevitable drop in frame rate. Professional-class cards like the Quadro FX1800 integrate a fast hardware engine specifically designed to draw AutoCAD-style smooth lines. The aesthetic lines our group drew had the desired level of detail with no drop in frame rate, thanks to the card’s processing power.

The Quadro FX1800 is an excellent solution for any AEC firm looking to upgrade. The out-of-the-box optimization and GPU acceleration for software partners is a huge timesaver for IT departments, too. More than half of NVIDIA’s engineers are actually software engineers, so years of work actually went into making the Quadro FX1800 this easy to use.


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