SSDs – The Need for CAD Speed

After years of hearing rave reviews about the blazing speed of SSDs (solid state drives), I decided it was time to take the plunge and get one.  It was the perfect time – my 300gb 10,000 rpm Western Digital HDD was starting to get full and I was doing a lot of clash detection back and forth between AutoCAD MEP and Navisworks, as well as corridor building in AutoCAD Civil 3D.  With the purported faster open, save, and read/write speeds of SSD’s, I thought this would be a wise investment.  My computer specs are decent, an Intel i7 920 with 12gb of RAM on Windows 7 64-bit, so this looked like a good option to increase the performance of the workstation.  I went with a Samsung 840 Series 500gb SSD, as the reliability of the Samsungs is rumored to be better than other brands.  At a price tag around $500 it better be.

Before I cloned my old drive, I busted out the stop watch and timed launching AutoCAD Civil 3D, AutoCAD MEP, Revit, and Navisworks.  I also tested opening and saving large files, rebuilding complex corridors in Civil 3D, and appending and reloading complicated 3D models in Navisworks.  I tested with the files on the network, as well as ones saved on my local drive.  With the SSD installed, launching applications clocked in faster, Civil 3D, MEP, and Revit launched 13-15% faster (2-3 seconds), while Navisworks launched 60% faster (15 seconds faster).  If I were opening these applications over and over all day long, say developing an add-on, this would be a valuable improvement.  For your average CAD user launching an application only a few times a day, it’s not very meaningful.

I also saw noticeable gains in opening .rvt files with Revit (38% faster) and Navisworks (74% faster).  With Civil 3D and MEP AutoCAD dwgs, there was no difference.  That’s fine since I do more opening of files than launching the software, but not enough in a typical day to let it worry me.  Saving files is where it’s at for me since I do that every 15 minutes and where increased speed would be a boon.  In my testing, save times were roughly the same in MEP, Revit, and Navisworks, whether saved on the network or the local drive.  I did see a 30% increase in save time for a 90mb topo in Civil 3D when saved on the local drive, but for smaller drawings, the difference was not discernible.

Well the SSD doesn’t help much in opening and saving files, but surely I would see faster build times on corridors in Civil 3D, and faster appends and reloads of AutoCAD dwgs in Navisworks?  Wrong again, my stop watch showed no difference.  Granted, these are mostly CPU related tasks, but still, I was hoping to see some gain.  Although my testing was not rigidly scientific, and other testing out there clearly shows SSD’s are faster for certain tasks, the extra price does not seem justifiable for the typical CAD user.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m strongly in favor of fast drives, but until SSD prices come down further, I’d stick with a 10K rpm hard drive and spend the couple hundred bucks on training to become more efficient with the software.

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